Kalmyk-German glossary

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[Basic information about Kalmyk (Mongolic language) and Julius Klaproth (1783-1835) below.]


Ethnologue classifies Kalmyk Oirat as a member of the Eastern branch of the Mongolic languages: "Mongolic, Eastern, Oirat-Khalkha, Oirat-Kalmyk-Darkhat". This places Standard Mongolian – which is essentially Khalkha Mongolian – and Kalmyk Oirat fairly close together. (source) (full Wikipedia article here)

Julius Klaproth

Heinrich Julius Klaproth (11 October 1783 – 28 August 1835) was a German linguist, historian, ethnographer, author, orientalist and explorer.[1] As a scholar, he is credited along with Jean-Pierre Abel-Rémusat, with being instrumental in turning East Asian Studies into scientific disciplines with critical methods.

Klaproth was born in Berlin on 11 October 1783, the son of the chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth, who is credited with the discovery of four elements including uranium. [VHM: !!!!]



Selected readings

I’ll just mention a book I recently read which is of related interest: “Where Two Worlds Met” by Michael Khodarkovsky. The book is about the last days of the Kalmyk Oirat Mongols as an independent people loosely allied to Russia. It’s interesting to to me because the Kalmyks were the last westward extension of the steppe nomads (and of Buddhism), but also because during the XVIIIc, the Circassians (Kabardians), Mari (Cheremiss), Kazakhs, Nogai, Chuvash, and various Tatar and Cossack groups all also remained independent or semi-independent in that general area.
The Kalmyks were literate and were in direct diplomatic contact with Istanbul, Baghdad, Beijing, and Lhasa, besides Moscow. (To my knowledge they had no relations with Western Europe, though during the early part of this period the Swedes invaded (or perhaps fled to) the Ukraine.
At my link I have something I wrote about the Torgut Kalmyks and their heroic and tragic trek to China after they decided to break with Russia. It’s somewhat outdated by Khodarkovsky’s book, but still interesting. (Trivia: Thomas DeQuincey wroite a garbled account of the Torgut exodus).

[h.t. Geoff Wade]


  1. Victor Mair said,

    April 5, 2024 @ 8:45 pm

    While waiting for commenters to weigh in on this post, allow me to give a foretaste of a couple of the next few posts that will be related to this one:

    1. another great German Mongolist and Kalmyk specialist who was born more than a century after Klaproth's birth (some of you might be able to guess who that was)

    2. genomic evidence for Near Eastern elements among the ancient ancestors of the Mongols

  2. Fred said,

    April 6, 2024 @ 3:15 am

    Johannes Benzing?

  3. Chris Button said,

    April 6, 2024 @ 6:45 am

    What does "Any suggestions as to which book it is a glossary of?" mean exactly? Why can't it just be a glossary compiled by Klaproth based on his linguistic fieldwork?

  4. languagehat said,

    April 6, 2024 @ 8:44 am

    I agree with Chris, especially since the heading on the text itself is "Dictionnaire Kalmouk-Allemand" (n.b. "dictionnaire," not "glossaire"). There is no reason to think it is derived from a particular book.

  5. Jichang Lulu said,

    April 9, 2024 @ 1:22 pm

    As the note shown in the tweet suggests, the item could be the manuscript Manchu-German dictionary (“de la plus belle exécution, et en caractères originaux”) in Klaproth's library, as catalogued after his death.

    The page numbers (which head sets of entries, but don't match actual pages in the notebook) could mean this dictionary is derived from another item. That would make it similar to others in that catalogue, which include lexicographical works Klaproth and other scholars had copied or expanded.

    Entries are approximately, but not quite, in alphabetical order: e.g., ailcilaqu ‘visit’ comes before ail ‘neighbour’ — this happens in lexicography of the period.

    The ‘Sprachatlas’ in Klaproth's Asia polyglotta should have Kalmyk material. It might match these items.

    Judging by this ‘preview’, the dictionary (whatever its ultimate source) would have been a useful reference work at the time. Zwick's (the link goes to a page that can be compared with ‘p. 1’ in the tweets), much richer, came almost two decades after Klaproth's death. Earlier printed works were generally quite slim; the Swedish work by Cornelius Rahmn (roughly contemporary to Klaproth's manuscript?) was only published recently, edited and translated by Jan-Olof Svantesson.

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