Volume 20, No.2 - Summer 1974
Editors of this issue: Thomas Remeikis
Copyright © 1974 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


Pennsylvania State University

Adalbert Bezzenberger* was born in Cassel, Germany, 14 April 1851 and died in East Prussia 31 October 1922; he was the founder of Baltic philology and a major contributor to the fields of Baltic folklore, archaeology and literature. He was descended from a distinguished Hessian family and his father, H. E. Bezzenberger, director of public instruction in Cassel, was also a successful publisher, philologist and an ardent devotee of Hessian folklore. The family's relationships with Massmann, Ludwig Grimm ( a younger brother of the famous Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm), and Hoffman von Fallersleben, were important for the young Adalbert who grew up in a sophisticated intellectual atmosphere. From 1859 to 1869 he attended the Lyceum Fridericianum in Cassel, and from Easter 1869 to 1872 the University of Göttingen, where he received his doctorate 26 July 1872 for his dissertation on Gothic adverbs and particles (published in 1873). In 1873 he went to the University of Munich where he fell under the influence of the famous Indo-Iranian specialist, Martin Haug. In Göttingen the distinguished Sanskritist Theodor Benfey, had influenced Bezzenberger and the latter's interests were turning from history and German studies to comparative linguistics and Indo-Iranian philology.

Nevertheless Bezzenberger's Habilitationsschrift was a study of Gothic morphology (1874c) and upon its publication he became a privat-docent in comparative linguistics at the University of Göttingen. On 28 March 1879 he was appointed associate professor, but on 19 March 1880 he accepted the offer of an appointment as a full professor of Sanskrit and comparative linguistics at the University of Königsberg. (Königsberg is now known is Kaliningrad and is located in the USSR.) In 1918 Bezzenberger was asked to become president (rector) of the University of Königsberg. He accepted this position (to which he was re-elected for two additional years) and, differently from many scholars who feel at ease only in the world of books, Bezzenberger showed himself to be a capable administrator until his retirement in 1921.

It is convenient to divide Bezzenberger's scholarly activity into three categories: 1. Baltic philology, 2. general Indo-European studies and 3. Baltic archaeology.

1. Encouraged to study the Baltic languages by August Fick, already in 1874 Bezzenberger published both a complete review of Nesselmann's Thesaurus of the Old Prussian language (1874a) and an edition of the 1547 Lithuanian Catechism. This was the first of a series of four volumes about Lithuanian and Latvian publications of the 16th and 17th centuries all of which are briefly described in the references (1874b, 1875, 1883b and 1885a). In his book on the history of the Lithuanian language (1877) Bezzenberger gave for the first time a survey of the old Lithuanian documents, the circumstances of their origin and a careful study of their language. One of the chief contributions was to move back the chronological perspectives of the Baltic languages to an earlier date. Before Bezzenberger, Lithuanian and Latvian had been known chiefly from much later sources.

In spite of its many shortcomings Bezzenberger's 1877 book has had a profound influence on Baltic studies, and reliance on its findings even colors contemporary scholarship. For example, Chr. S. Stang uses facts compiled by Bezzenberger on Bretkūnas' Bible translation to reconstruct a Lithuanian verbal thematic paradigm with the second singular ending -ai (1956 and 1966, 407). Stang's hypothesis is accepted without question by Calvert Watkins (1969, 213-215) who makes use of it to bolster his own hypothesis about the origin of the Indo-European verbal system.

Bezzenberger's personal influence was enormous. He was the teacher of the famous Baltic and Slavic specialist Reinhold Trautmann; he was one of those whose works encouraged the famous Latvian linguist, Janis Endzelīns, to undertake the study of his native language. The distinguished Lithuanian linguist, Kazimieras Būga, went to Königsberg especially to study with Bezzenberger. Jonas Jablonskis, the father of the Lithuanian literary language, called Bezzenberger "a torch whose works lit up the path for the first Lithuanian specialists in their native culture." (Sabaliauskas, 1967, 54).

Bezzenberger was also an energetic field worker in Baltic languages and although his active command of these languages was relatively poor, he made many trips into the Nemunas (Memel) area, Curonia, Livonia and the province of Kaunas (Kovno) for dialect studies. (See references 1884, 1885c and 1887.) In the summer of 1882 in the company of the noted Latvian linguist, pastor August Bielenstein of Doblen and Prof. Ludwig Stieda of the University of Dorpat (now Tartu, Estonia) Bezzenberger made an extensive trip into Latvia, a trip which culminated in the publication of his Latvian dialect studies (1885b).

Evidence of Bezzenberger's profound interest in Lithuanian folk songs, folklore and customs is found in his book on this subject (1882a). His article on Lithuanian literature (1908) was the first general review of the subject ever published in a western European language.

At least brief mention must be made of Bezzenberger's work on Old Prussian. In 1897 he published an edition of the Elbing vocabulary and in 1907 some very important comments on the language of the Old Prussian Enchiridion or Third Catechism. Bezzenberger's reviews of Berneker's (1897b) and Trautmann's (1911) grammars of Old Prussian contain innovative etymologies and linguistic analysis.

2. In 1877 while still a privat-dozent at the University of Göttingen, Bezzenberger founded the periodical Beiträge zur Kunde der indogermanischen Sprachen (usually known as Bezzenberger's Beiträge and commonly abbreviated as BB). Heralding the beginning of the publication of this new journal, Bezzenberger draws attention to the fact that previously works on Indo European languages had appeared in a variety of publications devoted to related disciplines and hence frequently escaped the notice of others working in the same field. And indeed BB was the first journal to be founded with the aim of including all the Indo-European languages. Originally the famous Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung (frequently known as Kuhns Zeitschrift [after its founder] and commonly abbreviated as KZ or ZVS) was limited to Latin, Greek and German, although later it came to include the other indo European languages as well. But on the pages of BB we find the contributions of many of the most eminent linguistis of the epoch, e.g., Chr. Bartholomae, the founder of Iranian philology; Hermann Collitz, the noted Indo-Europeanist; Filip Fortunatov, the distinguished Russian linguist; Holger Pederson, the well-known Danish Celticist; R. Pischel and Alfred Hillebrandt, the famous Sanskritists. In fact it was in this very periodical that Jānis Endzelīns published his fundamental article (1899) on the Latvian syllable accents. Bezzenberger edited this journal by himself up to volume 18 and then later with Prellwitz. In 1906 Bezzenbergers Beiträge was merged with Kuhns Zeitschrift and Bezzenberger himself became a member of the editorial staff of the latter journal until his death in 1922. Bezzenberger has also edited 13 numbers of the famous Göttingische Gelehrte Anzeigen before he moved to Königsberg in 1880.

In addition to his important editorial work, Bezzenberger's own views were profoundly influential in the Indo-European linguistic thought of his time. In 1890 he examined the then prevailing notion that Indo-European had possessed two series of velar consonants, viz., a palato-velar series (then termed simply 'palatal') and a pure velar series (then termed simply 'velar'). Bezzenberger concluded that the pure velars really represented two series, a q-series (labio-velars) and a k-series (pure velars), thereby proposing a total of three series (along with the palato-velars) for Indo-European. Thus, for example, the initial k- of Sanskrit kah 'who' and the initial qu- of Latin quis derive from the Indo-European labio-velar *q, but the initial k- of Sanskrit karkata-'crab' and Greek karkinos derive from the Indo-European pure velar *k. Bezzenberger (1890, 235) credits others with having seen the necessity of such distinction and considers his own contribution as having been merely the final step. Bezzenberger's view (which had been simultaneously proposed by Osthoff) was accepted by Karl Brugmann in 1897 in the second edition of his Grundriss (quoted here from the 1930 reprint, Vol. I, p. 570). Today, curiously enough, Bezzenberger's view would be considered traditional and such contemporary Indo-Europeanists as Lehmann (1955, 100-102) and Kuryłowicz (1956, 356-375) would posit two rather than three series of velars.

Gerullis, 1924, 271, credits Bezzenberger with the brilliant proof that the intonation of the Greek final syllables is historically related to the Lithuanian intonations. In 1883 Bezzenberger set up the following comparisons (66):




nom. sg. merga 'girl'
              pabaiga 'end'
gen. sg. mergos, pabaigos
skia 'shadow'
time 'honor'
skias, times


(In Lithuanian the accentuation is better seen in the definite adjective in which the etymological penultimate syllable retains its original form since it is protected by a following suffixed element, here separated by a hyphen.)

 nom. sg. baltàs-is 'white' 
nom. dual baltūo-ju
  nom. pl. baltíe-ji
   gen. pl. baltų-ju
   acc. pl. baltúos-ius
kakós 'bad'

3. Bezzenberger began to study archaeology in order to determine the homeland of the Baltic tribes in prehistoric times. He was apparently the first Indo-Europeanist to take to the shovel and begin digging. Even though he was well aware of the deficiencies of contemporary archaeology he wanted to save as many artefacts as possible before they were destroyed. He was active in the excavation of stone-age sites in the Curonian Neringa (a narrow strip of land on the Baltic coast between the Baltic Sea and the Curonian Lagoon), the hill graves of the bronze and pre-Roman iron ages and the great post-Christian necropolises of Samogitia and Masuria. His favorite area, however, was the area north of the Nemunas (Memel) with its extensive old Lithuanian cemeteries which he was the first to investigate scientifically.

His first contribution to archaeology dates from his 1889 book on the Curonian Neringa and its inhabitants. Here we find a brief description of the pre-historic and for the most part stone-age finds on this curious geographical formation. In this work, Bezzenberger contributes nothing new, but rather follows the opinions of his mentor, O. Tischler. In 1891 when Bezzenberger became director of the Prussian museum he also became editor of the Sitzungsberichte der Altertumsgesellschaft Prussia, a journal which laid the foundations of East Prussian archaeology and which he edited for 25 years. He was a frequent contributor himself to this journal.

Accoding to Gimbutas, 1963, 17, it was O. Tischler and Adalbert Bezzenberger who were responsible for the first classification and excavations of the East Prussian area. Gimbutas, 1963, 59, 206, also refers to Bezzenberger's important article (1909) in which we find a description of a statuette apparently representing a Hittite deity found in Šernai near Klaipėda.

Among Bezzenberger's other important works on archaeology, mention must be made of his 1904 study of the prehistoric bronze items found in East Prussia. The book assigns a rough dating to these items according to the relative quantities of copper, tin, zinc, lead, iron, nickel, arsenic and several other substances. Bezzenberger comes to the conclusion that for the extremely accurate establishment of prehistoric dates chemistry cannot help, but that it can give general indices for rather gross comparisons.

One may then conclude that Bezzenberger was a man of vast erudition, one who combined in a most felicitous manner his interests in Baltic and Indo-European philology with a later but no less profound interest in archaeology. His legacy of twenty-three books and more than 300 articles (Sabaliauskas, 1967, 52) are ample attestation of his indefatigable work in these fields.


* To appear in Biographical Dictionary of Linguists, Thomas E. Sebeok, Editor, Mouton, The Hague. Printed here with permission of Mouton, Publishers, The Hague.

Selected Bibliography

Bezzenberger, Adalbert. 1873. Untersuchungen über die gotischen Adverbien und Partikeln. Diss. Halle.
—. 1872a. Nesselmann, Thesaurus Linguae Prussicae. Göttingische gelehrte Anzeigen. No. 39. 1221-52.
—. 1874b. Litauische und Lettische Drucke des 16. Jahrhunderts. Heft I. Der litauische Katechismus vom Jahre 1547. Göttingen, Robert Peppmüller. (Foreword v-xiv, in which B. explains that the aim of the undertaking is to make possible the historical investigation of Lithuanian and Latvian. B. also notes the inconsistencies of Mosvidius' spelling and gives a short list of words which, he says, the reader might not be able to find elsewhere. The text Mosvidius' Catechism is on pp. 1-36.)
—. 1874c. Ueber die A-Reihe der gotischen Sprache. Göttingen, Robert Peppmüller. 71 pp. [An explanation as to how Indo-European *a corresponds to Gothic a, i (ai) and u (aú).]
—. 1875. Litauische und Lettische Drucke des 16. Jahrhunderts. Göttingen, Robert Peppmüller. Title page lists II. Der lettische Katechismus vom Jahre 1586. III. Das litauische Taufformular vom Jahre 1559. IV. Anhang: Das (Angeblich altpreussische) lettische Vaterunser des Simon Grunaus. (In spite of the title page this work must be considered Heft II of this series. Contains description of orthography and lexicon of Latvian catechism and Lithuanian baptismal rite. Latvian Lord's prayer contains two Old Prussian words, iii-xxvii plus 59 pp.)
—. 1877. Beiträge zur Geschichte der litauischen Sprache auf Grund litauischer Texte des XVI. und des XVII. Jahrhunderts. Göttingen, Robert Peppmüller. (Introduction v-xxxvii. Dialectology 3-17. Phonology 17-94. Derivational morphology 94 -119. Inflectional morphology 120-232. Syntax 233-268. Lexicon 269-343. Corrections and additions 343-356. Careful descriptions of numerous old Lithuanian texts.)
—. 1882a. Litauische Forschungen. Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Sprache und des Volkstumes der Litauer. Göttingen, Robert Peppmüller. XVIII plus 206 pp. (Not a linguistic work. Contains folk songs, stories, riddles, proverbs, spells, invectives, customs. 7 pp. at end with separate numeration give melodies for folk songs.)
—. Litauische und Lettische Drucke des 16. Jahrhunderts. Heft III. Prepared by F. Bechtel. Bartholomäus Willents litauische Uebersetzung des Lutherschen Enchiridions und der Episteln und Evangelien, nebst den Varianten der von Lazarus Sengstock besorgten Ausgabe dieser Schriften. Robert Peppmüller. Göttingen, cxli plus 180 pp.
—. 1883. Grammatische Bemerkungen. BB 7.61-78.
—. 1884. Zur litauischen dialektforschung. BB 8.98-142. (Dialect study of northern Prussian Lithuanian.)
—. 1885a. Litauische und Lettische Drucke des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts. Heft IV. Prepared by Richard Garbe. Göttingen, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. [Grammatical description, pp. vii-xlviii, and text of Szyrwid's Punkty Kazan (Punktay Sakimu) of 1629, pp. 1-156.]
—. 1885b. Lettische Dialekt-Studien. Göttingen, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. 179 pp. (Explanatory material, dealect texts, grammatical remarks and comments on lexicon.)
—. 1885c. Zur litauischen Dialektforschung. II. BB 9.253-293. (Dialect study of southern Prussian Lithuanian.)
—. 1887. Über die Sprache der preussischen Letten. Mitau. = Lettisch-literärische Gesellschaft. Magazin, Vol. 18. Reissued in 1888 by Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. 170 pp. (Texts, phonology, morphology, syntax and dialect differences in Prussian Latvian and its position relative to Russian Latvian dialects.)
—. 1889. Die Kurische Nehrung und ihre Bewohner. Stuttgart, J. Engelhorn. = Forschungen zur deutschen Landes- und Volkskunde. Vol. 3, No. 4 pp. 161-300.
—. 1890. Die indogermanishcen gutturalreihen. BB 16.234-259.
—. 1897a. Das Elbinger Deutsch - Preussische Vokabular. Königsberg, W. Koch.
—. 1897b. Review of Erich Berneker, Die preussische Sprache. BB 23.283-321.
—. 1904. Analysen vorgeschichtlicher Bronzen Ostpreussens. Königsberg, von Gräfe und Unzer.
—. 1907. Studien über die Sprache des preussischen Enchiridions. KZ 41.65-127.
—. 1908. Die litauische Literatur. In Hinneberg, Paul, ed. Die Kultur der Gegenwart: ihre Entwicklung und ihre Ziele. Die osteuropäischen Literaturen und die slawischen Sprachen. Berlin and Leipzig, B. G. Teubner.
—. and E. P. Peiser. 1909. Die Bronzefigur von Schemen. Sitzungsberichte der Altertumsgesellschaft Prussia. 22.424-444.
—. 1911. Review of Reinhold Trautmann, Die altpreussischen Sprachdenkmäler. KZ 44.285-331.
Brugmann, Karl. 1930. Grundriss der vergleichenden Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen. Vol. l, Einleitung und Lautlehre. Zweite Bearbeitung. Berling and Leipzig, Walter de Gruyter.
Endzelins, Janis. 1899. Über den lettischen Silbenaccent. BB 25.259-274.
Festschrift Adalbert Bezzenberger. 1921. Göttingen, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. No editor. Brief biography of Bezzenberger, pp. 4-7.)
Gerulis, Jurgis (= Gerullis, Georg). 1921. Adalbertas Becenbergeris. Švietimo darbas. No. 5/6, May-June. 86-96. (Biography and bibliography.)
Gerullis, Georg. 1924. Adalbert Bezzenberger. Indogermanisches Handbuch. 9.269-279. (Biography and bibliography. Somewhat less complete than preceding item.)
Gimbutas, M. 1963. The Baits. New York, Praeger.
Kuryłowicz, Jerzy. 1956. L'apophonie en indo-européen. Wrocław, PAN.
Lehmann, Winfred P. 1955. Proto-Indo-European Phonology. Austin, Univ. of Texas Press and Linguistic Society of America.
Sabaliauskas, Algirdas. 1967. Žodžiai atgyja. Vilnius, Vaga. (Anecdotal biographies of important linguists in Baltic field. English translation available from Dept. of Slavic Languages, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa. 16802.)
Stang. Chr. S. 1956. Ein Beitrag zum Problem vom Diphthong ie im Litauischen. Die Welt der Slaven 1.136-139.
—. 1966. Vergleichende Grammatik der baltischen Sprachen. Universitetsforlaget, Oslo, Bergen, Tromsö.
Trautmann, Reinhold and M. Ebert. 1923. Adalbert Bezzenberger. KZ 51.291.Č313. (Obit, article.)
Watkins, Calvert. 1969. Indogermanische Grammatik. Vol. 3. Formenlehre, 1st pt. Carl Winter, Heidelberg.
Yčas, Jonas. 1924a. Adalbert Bezzenberger. Tauta ir žodis. 2.49-56. (Biography in Lithuanian.)
—. 1924b. Bezzenberger'is ir lietuvių tauta. Tauta ir žodis 2.57-59. (Bezzenberger's importance for the Lithuanian nation. In Lithuanian.)