Tuesday, August 29, 2017

An Interesting Philologist

Language is considered to be one of the unique characteristics of humankind. Lazarus (Eliezer Solomon ) Geiger believed that there was a great deal to learn about humanity from studying the development of language. He was particularly interested in the evolution of the language of color, the changing recognition of color and how it connected to the development of humanity. Specifically, a thorough study of ancient texts demonstrated that earlier cultures did not recognize colors, such as blue, in the same way as it was recognized in Geiger's day and age (or our own). One of his primary theories was the connection between the evolution of human reason and the development of language.

Born in Frankfurt-on-Main, on May 21, 1829, Geiger's earliest language lessons appear to have been in Hebrew, which he studied from a young age with his father. His first instinct was not to follow an academic path, but after a short stint as a bookseller in Mayence, he returned to Frankfurt, finished gymnasium, and went on to study philology at the universities of Marburg, Heidelberg and Bonn. After completing his studies, Geiger settled in Frankfurt and continued his research and writing, publishing his first major work in 1865. At the same time he worked as a teacher in the city’s Jewish high school.

Being in Frankfurt put Geiger right in the heart of the shifting religious tides of German Jewry. His own family reflected that divide. Geiger was raised in an Orthodox home while his father’s brother, Rabbi Abraham Geiger, was a leader in the new Reform movement. As enmeshed as Geiger was in the intellectual world, he stayed deeply rooted in tradition.

As Geiger worked toward publishing his complete theory regarding language, color and human development, he developed an infection of the heart that claimed his life on August 29, 1870, at the age of 41. Much of his academic work was published posthumously by his brother Alfred.

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