Antoine Meillet

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Antoine Meillet
Meillet Antoine.jpg
Paul Jules Antoine Meillet

(1866-11-11)11 November 1866
Moulins, France
Died21 September 1936(1936-09-21) (aged 69)
Nationality France
Alma mater University of Paris
Institutions Collège de France, Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales,
Main interests
Comparative Linguistics, Armenian linguistics, Philology
Notable ideas
Epithets in Homer, Meillet's law

Paul Jules Antoine Meillet (French:  [ɑ̃twan mɛjɛ] ; 11 November 1866, Moulins, France – 21 September 1936, Châteaumeillant, France) was one of the most important French linguists of the early 20th century. He began his studies at the Sorbonne University, where he was influenced by Michel Bréal, Ferdinand de Saussure and the members of the L'Année Sociologique . In 1890, he was part of a research trip to the Caucasus, where he studied the Armenian language. After his return, de Saussure had gone back to Geneva so he continued the series of lectures on comparative linguistics that the Swiss linguist had given.

Moulins, Allier Prefecture and commune in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, France

Moulins is a commune in central France, capital of the Allier department. It is located on the Allier River.

Châteaumeillant Commune in Centre-Val de Loire, France

Châteaumeillant is a commune in the Cher department in the Centre-Val de Loire region of France.

University of Paris former university in Paris, France

The University of Paris, metonymically known as the Sorbonne, was a university in Paris, France, active 1150–1793, and 1806–1970.


Meillet completed his doctorate, Research on the Use of the Genitive-Accusative in Old Slavonic, in 1897. In 1902, he took a chair in Armenian at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales and took under his wing Hrachia Adjarian, who would become the founder of modern Armenian dialectology. In 1905, he was elected to the Collège de France, where he taught on the history and structure of Indo-European languages. One of his most-quoted statements is that "anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant". He worked closely with linguists Paul Pelliot and Robert Gauthiot.

Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales academic language institution in France

Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales is a French research institution teaching languages that span Central Europe, Africa, Asia, America, and Oceania. It is often informally called Langues O’ or more recently by the acronym Inalco.

Collège de France Higher education and research establishment

The Collège de France, founded in 1530, is a higher education and research establishment in France. It is located in Paris, in the 5th arrondissement, or Latin Quarter, across the street from the historical campus of La Sorbonne.

Today Meillet is remembered as the mentor of an entire generation of linguists and philologists, who would become central to French linguistics in the twentieth century, such as Émile Benveniste, Georges Dumézil, and André Martinet.

Philology is the study of language in oral and written historical sources; it is the intersection between textual criticism, literary criticism, history, and linguistics. Philology is more commonly defined as the study of literary texts as well as oral and written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination of their meaning. A person who pursues this kind of study is known as a philologist.

Émile Benveniste was a French structural linguist and semiotician. He is best known for his work on Indo-European languages and his critical reformulation of the linguistic paradigm established by Ferdinand de Saussure.

Georges Dumézil French philologist

Georges Dumézil was a French comparative philologist best known for his analysis of sovereignty and power in Proto-Indo-European religion and society. He is considered one of the major contributors to mythography, in particular for his formulation of the trifunctional hypothesis of social class in ancient societies.

In 1921, with the help of linguists Paul Boyer and André Mazon  [ fr ], he founded the Revue des études slaves  [ fr ]

Paul Boyer (slavist) French linguist

Paul Boyer was a French slavist.

Homeric studies

At the Sorbonne, from 1924, Meillet supervised Milman Parry. In 1923, a year before Parry began his studies with Meillet, the latter wrote the following (which, in the first of his two French theses, Parry quotes):

Milman Parry was an American scholar of epic poetry and the founder of the discipline of oral tradition.

Homeric epic is entirely composed of formulae handed down from poet to poet. An examination of any passage will quickly reveal that it is made up of lines and fragments of lines which are reproduced word for word in one or several other passages. Even those lines of which the parts happen not to recur in any other passage have the same formulaic character, and it is doubtless pure chance that they are not attested elsewhere. [1]

Meillet offered the opinion that oral-formulaic composition might be a distinctive feature of orally transmitted epics (which the Iliad was said to be). He suggested to Parry that he observe the mechanics of a living oral tradition to confirm whether that suggestion was valid; he also introduced Parry to the Slovenian scholar Matija Murko, who had written extensively about the heroic epic tradition in Serbo-Croatian and particularly in Bosnia with the help of phonograph recordings. [2] From Parry's resulting research in Bosnia, the records of which are now housed at Harvard University, he and his student Albert Lord revolutionized Homeric scholarship. [3]

International languages

Meillet supported the use of an international auxiliary language. In his book La Ricerca della Lingua Perfetta nella Cultura Europea ("The Pursuit of the Perfect Language in the Culture of Europe"), Umberto Eco cites Meillet as saying, "Any kind of theoretical discussion is useless, Esperanto is functioning". [4] In addition, Meillet was a consultant with the International Auxiliary Language Association, which presented Interlingua in 1951. [5]


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  1. Meillet, Antoine (1923), Les origines indo-européennes des mètres grecs, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, p. 61. Adam Parry's translation, revised.
  2. Lord, Albert Bates (1960), The singer of tales, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, pp. 11-12; Dalby, Andrew (2006), Rediscovering Homer , New York, London: Norton, ISBN   0-393-05788-7 , pp. 186-187.
  3. Parry, Milman; Parry, Adam (editor) (1971), The making of Homeric verse. The collected papers of Milman Parry, Oxford: Clarendon Press
  4. Nneer, Simajro (2006), "Umberto Eco diris ...", an article in Kontakto, a quarterly in Esperanto language, Nr. 213, p.14, Rotterdam: World Esperanto Association
  5. Esterhill, Frank (2000), Interlingua Institute: A History, New York: Interlingua Institute.