Chapter 20 Tradition, Synthesis, and Innovation: An Early Eighteenth-Century Dissertation on Dialects Presented in Wittenberg

In: Early Modern Disputations and Dissertations in an Interdisciplinary and European Context
Raf Van Rooy
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An important source type for the underexplored history of early modern dialect studies is the academic dissertation, of which the Disputatio de causis dialectorum, speciatim Graecarum (1702) constitutes a unique yet unstudied specimen. Presented in Wittenberg by the Hellenist Christian Gottlieb Schwartz (1675–1751; praeses) and the further unknown Abraham Helm (respondens), it was the first dissertation to systematically treat the topic. Its appearance must be framed within the tradition of Greek studies at Wittenberg university, where the Protestant reformer Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560) was appointed professor of Greek in 1518. Yet Schwartz and Helm’s 1702 disputation relied on a much broader range of scholarship published in different parts of Europe. In several respects, it offered a synthesis of previous work. In addition, the dissertation made an original contribution to dialect studies by formulating new ideas; for instance, its author(s) proposed an entirely new definition of dialectus. I analyze in depth this complex interplay between tradition, synthesis, and innovation in Schwartz and Helm’s disputation while mapping out its position vis-à-vis the Wittenberg academic tradition as well as the broader scholarly interest in dialectal variation in early modern Europe. I also assess to what extent the Wittenberg fascination with dialectal variation can be said to correlate to confessional parameters.

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