Guide to the Research Collections

- Section -- II: -- THE HUMANITIES
- PART TWO
- 27 -- LINGUISTICS
- HISTORICAL SURVEY

HISTORICAL SURVEY

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.