Guide to the Research Collections

- Section -- II: -- THE HUMANITIES



The Research Libraries have always been strong in materials relating to linguistics, and now contain 52,000 manuscripts, volumes, and maps related to this field. Although the resources are substantially complete in all languages where there are published works, they are perhaps most noteworthy in American Indian languages and the languages of Africa and Polynesia, with a number of works on the universal languages (e.g., Esperanto, Volapük). In 1941 it was estimated that there were resources in the collections for the study of fourteen hundred languages; currently the Research Libraries have at least a specimen of almost every written language. Minor languages have always been the New York Public Library's special domain.

In its current acquisitions, considerable selectivity is exercised, although an effort is made to obtain everything of importance in the English language published both here and abroad. For the classical languages and modern foreign tongues, dictionaries and glossaries of languages and dialects, as well as the standard general treatises on grammar and philology are secured. An extensive file of journals is also maintained. In minor languages the Research Libraries continue to collect both critical writings and printed textual examples. Routine materials and many unusual imprints have been gathered.

The collecting policy in Greek and most languages using the Roman alphabet is comprehensive, except for the pedagogic aspects of the subject, including textbooks, grammars, and readers, which are collected on a selective basis. Some Romance languages such as Rhaeto-Romanic, Dalmatian, Catalan, Rumanian (and also Albanian) are acquired on a representative basis.

Most Oriental languages are collected comprehensively in the field of linguistics, with the following notable exceptions, which are collected representatively: African languages which use or formerly used the Arabic script (Fulah, Hausa, Somali, Swahili, etc.); the Middle Indian language Prakrit; the languages of the Malay Archipelago (except Indonesia, Malay, and Malaya); and the languages of Indo-China.

Balto-Slavic languages are acquired comprehensively by the Slavonic Division, but the non-Indo-European languages of the USSR are collected only selectively.

The Jewish Division acquires works in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Jewish dialectal linguistics comprehensively with the exception of Aramaic and Biblical Hebrew, which are acquired on a representative basis. In accordance with its policy in Yiddish literature, the division acquires exhaustively all available material in Yiddish linguistics, including grammars, textbooks, and other pedagogical items.

A brief tabulation reveals the growth of the linguistics collections:

1921 New York Public Library14,098 volumes
19661 40,500

In 1966 the distribution of linguistic materials by language area was approximately as follows:

General works6,660 volumes
International languages2,000
Greek and Latin8,900
Other Romance languages480
General Teutonic languages1,350

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Minor European1,350
American Indian5,200
Hebrew and Yiddish1,900
Oriental languages6,000
Balto-Slavic languages1,400


As early as 1851, Dr. Cogswell, in his Annual Report for the Astor Library, considered the collection in linguistics "approaching towards a full apparatus of grammars, vocabularies, dictionaries, and other facilities for acquiring the various languages of the earth." In 1854 he declared the collection "would do credit to a much older institution," having "grammars and dictionaries of one hundred and four different languages, and numerous vocabularies of the rude unwritten ones" as well as "chrestomathies, and other useful facilities for studying them. All the families and branches of European languages, and a greater part of those of Asia and Africa, are represented in the collection. It contains the best works on the Egyptian hieroglyphics, the cuneiform inscriptions, and the other curious records of the ancient nations of the East. It has also the best of the vocabularies of the ancient dialects of the Mexican and South American Indians, which were collected and published by the early Spanish missionary priests."2 The Lenox Library, while it could boast no extensive collection in this field, had some early, rare materials, such as Molina's Aquí comiença un vocabulario enla lengua castellana y mexicana (1555) and the Doctrina Christiana (1578).

The Ford collection, given in 1899, contained much manuscript material relating to the lexicographer Noah Webster; it was strengthened by a gift from Mrs. Theodore Bailey in 1954. In 1908 Wilberforce Eames gave a large collection of volumes in the African languages, continuing other gifts of similar material. In 1916, Mrs. Thomas A. Janvier gave about 500 works on Provence, including material on the Provençal language.3 In 1932 a collection gathered by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was acquired, a collection made up of materials printed in the native languages of those locales where the board had its stations. The collection contained over 5,000 volumes of catechisms, tracts, portions of the Gospels, the whole Bible, and other religious books, in native dialects of India, Africa, and other parts of the world. In 1936 the Research Libraries purchased two collections of interest in this field. The first was the C.P.G. Scott library, consisting almost entirely of standard linguistic works; its particular feature being an important group in the Malay languages. The other was portions of the Starr collection, of interest principally to anthropology but containing imprints in minor languages as widely scattered as those of the Philippine Islands, East Africa, and Mexico. Gifts over the years have helped to form the collection of materials in Esperanto and Volapük; the Mrs. Dave H. Morris gift in 1948 and 1949 added notably to materials in Esperanto and Ido.


Few of the important European or American studies relating either to comparison of languages or individual tongues are wanting. Included are dictionaries and glossaries, formal treatises, periodicals, essays, and a variety of manuals (grammars, rhetorics, "easy method" textbooks for learning foreign languages). Current school textbooks are not usually acquired; there is, however, an interesting collection of earlier examples.

The Research Libraries have an unusually good collection of dictionaries, composed not only of current and standard publications but including many others of historic interest. There are good representations of earlier editions of French, German, and particularly English works. Many of these were of secondary importance and are consequently more difficult for the scholar to locate. Additional copies of authoritative works are added if they seem to be useful; earlier editions of important works and secondary works not in the collection are also added, but no attempt is made to keep variant imprints or issues of any but rare works in this field. Abridgements are not ordinarily added to the collections.

Two collections of dictionaries are accessible. The Main Reading Room collection is designed to meet all ordinary needs of the public; the reference collection of works in linguistics maintained by the Preparation Services is adapted to staff needs. These latter works are available in the reading rooms on request. Modern language dictionaries kept in the special reading rooms (the Jewish Division, the Oriental Division, etc.) are generally duplicates of works in the reference collections mentioned or the stack collection, and are available for readers in those rooms only. Copies needed for desk use elsewhere may be secured from the stacks.

Dictionaries and glossaries of subjects include standard works. Their extent depends upon the strength of the subject in the collections. Important scientific and technical dictionaries, for example, are usually present but no exhaustive holding is maintained; similarly, medical dictionaries have been updated since the end of World War II, particularly those with foreign and English language equivalents, but no attempt is made to achieve full coverage in this field.


An outstanding feature of the collection is its periodicals, with long files of such journals as the American Journal of Philology, Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen, Nordisk Tidsskrift for Filologi og Paedagogik, Revue de linguistique et de philologie comparée, Language: Journal of the Linguistic Society of America, and the Transactions of the Philological Society, London. Serial publications devoted to individual languages are equally representative, and the files are as substantial as those of the general titles.

The indexing of serial publications for philological contributions has long been a special feature of the Public Catalog. For the minor tongues, including dialects, the indexing is extensive. Included are not only linguistic publications but those of academies and learned societies and

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periodicals in such other subject fields as local history.

International Languages

The collection relating to international (or universal) languages is of considerable interest. Materials relating to Esperanto and Volapük include the writings of their inventors, L. Zamenhof and J.M. Schleyer, as well as of detractors and enthusiasts. Serial publications, including those of societies and congresses, are held in strength. The Esperanto collection, represented by some 2,000 entries in the Public Catalog, contains an unusual representation of books in the language. There are also printed works in Volapük. Materials on other universal languages are less extensive. Philological journals make some contribution to this special field, and the publications of certain groups that have advocated international languages offer unindexed sources.

The Mrs. Dave H. Morris artificial language collection was given in 1948-49. It consists of some 1,500 items, the larger part in Esperanto with some in Ido and other international auxiliary languages. All types of writings are found in the collection, including juvenile books, essays, reports of congresses, conferences, grammars, readers, and belles-lettres.

African Languages

The collection relating to African languages is good. Some 3,300 cards in the Public Catalog represent more than 600 African languages and dialects. These include references ranging from a single title to substantial representations for such languages as Bantu, Ewe, Fulah, Hausa, Kongo, Swahili, Yoruba, Zulu, and others; the Berber languages have an even greater number of citations, as do the Ethiopic language and its tongues. The extensive number of references for African languages is due in part to close indexing of journals and other serials. There are, however, numerous separate studies and many printed examples of these tongues. Bibles and religious manuals often provide the principal printed texts; English, French, and German linguistic studies predominate.

Students of the African languages will find especially valuable resources in the Schomburg Center. There are notable holdings in some 60 indigenous languages as diverse as Adangme, Nyanja, Sotho, Swahili, and Zulu: the language held in most strength (59 works) is Xhosa. More than 140 African languages and dialects are documented by dictionaries, grammars, and general studies in English and the European languages (the largest number of these in French). Among extensive phonodisc holdings in the center, the important Sound of Africa series contains 3,000 items in 128 languages which are of linguistic as well as musical significance.

Oceanic Languages

This area is one of considerable strength; it is estimated that some 210 Oceanic and 320 Australian languages and dialects are now represented. Unusual Hawaiian materials in the Rare Book Division include alphabets, grammars, phrasebooks, textbooks in the sciences, New Testaments, the first Hawaiian hymn book, royal statutes, and other material published in Honolulu or the islands in the first half of the nineteenth century. The library attempts to complement these materials by extensive acquisition of modern Hawaiian language texts and those in Polynesian languages related to Hawaiian.

American Indian Languages

There are some 5,200 references to American Indian languages in the Public Catalog. Approximately 600 languages of North, Central, and South American Indians are covered. There are substantial groups relating to the following tongues: Algonquin, Chippewa, Choctaw, Cree, Creek, Eskimo, Massachuset, Mexican Indian, Mohawk, Quechua, Santee, and Tupi-Guarani. Rare works from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and the first half of the nineteenth centuries are to be found in the Rare Book Division. Among them are many works by John Eliot in the Massachuset Indian language, including his The Indian Grammar Begun (1666), and his famous translations of the New Testament (1661) and the Bible (1663). Roger Williams's A Key into the Languages of America (1643) is also present.

Balto-Slavic Languages

As in other areas, a comprehensive attempt is made in acquisitions, except where practical considerations intervene. From the establishment of the Slavonic Division everything available to the Western world has been collected, with resulting holdings of some 1,400 volumes. The collection of Balto-Slavic linguistic journals is unusually complete. Grammars and textbooks are normally purchased only when they are of importance to scholarship; ordinary textbooks are not acquired unless they are in one of the non-Indo-European languages of the USSR, in which case everything available is obtained. The Slavonic Division card catalog contains index entries for articles in linguistics from learned journals.

Hebrew and Yiddish Languages

The Hebrew and Yiddish holdings in the Jewish Division represent a scholar's collection, with some material in Ladino and other Jewish dialects. The division is careful to fill gaps in the collections as well as to acquire new works as they appear. Incunabula in Hebrew linguistics find a place in the Jewish Division: David Kimhi's Sefer Ha-shorashim in two editions printed in Naples in 1490 and in 1491. Sixteenth-century editions include the works of Moses Kimchi and Elijah Levita, and those of the Christian Hebraists of the period: Johannes Böschenstein, Johann Reuchlin, and Sebastian Münster.

Oriental Languages

Holdings in the linguistics of Oriental languages total some 6,000 volumes, or about one-tenth of the total holdings of the Oriental Division. The collections include materials in or about some 200 Asiatic tongues; in addition, about 100 tongues in the Malayan group are represented. The areas of greatest numerical strength are Arabic, Japanese, the modern Indic languages, Chinese, and Sanskrit, in the order given. As the collecting policy for modern Indic languages is representative, future acquisitions cannot be expected to parallel those of the past. Other languages of smaller speech communities have been given considerable attention, such as Armenian, Manchu,

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Tibetan, and the non-Slavic languages of the Central Asian republics of the USSR.4 There is good and steadily increasing coverage in the Caucasian languages: in 1966 more than half the materials were in Georgian, but collections in other Caucasian languages are being developed.

A number of rarities in the Oriental Division include the first grammar in Kanarese by John McKerrell, entitled A Grammar of the Carnataca Language (Madras, 1820), a work which no longer exists in the original in the South Indian home of this Dravidian language. The linguistic survey of India made by the Indian government from 1903 to 1928 is another rare and valuable item.

Noah Webster

The Webster collection is remarkable not only in bulk of material but in its significance; many of the volumes were Webster's own or have other association value.5 Possession of the major portion of Webster's personal and business papers makes the holdings outstanding. The strength of the collection is based on the gifts of Worthington Chauncey Ford and Paul Leicester Ford in 1899, and further additions made by their sister Mrs. Emily Ellsworth Ford Skeel. The Noah Webster materials in the Ford collection in the Manuscripts and Archives Division include about 1,500 pieces of correspondence, Webster's diaries for the years 1784-1820, and lexicographical materials, in addition to the papers of Noah Webster's son William Greenleaf Webster. The extensive collection of early dictionaries and school books by Webster in the Rare Book Division was strengthened by a gift in 1954 from Mrs. Theodore L. Bailey, presented as a tribute to her aunt, Emily Skeel. This brought editions of Webster's speller and other works not hitherto available in the Research Libraries, most notably a first edition of A Grammatical Institute, of the English Language ... (1783).6