Jones, Sir William

Jones, Sir William
born Sept. 28, 1746, London, Eng.
died April 27, 1794, Calcutta

British orientalist, linguist, and jurist.

He completed an authoritative Grammar of the Persian Language in 1771. For financial reasons he then turned to the study and practice of law. His Moallakât, a translation of seven famous Arabic odes, was published in 1782, and the following year he was knighted and sailed for Calcutta (now Kolkata) as judge of the Supreme Court. He founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal to encourage Asian studies and published scholarly works on Hindu and Muslim law. His proposition (1786) that there was a common source for languages ranging from Celtic to Sanskrit led to recognition of the Indo-European language family.

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▪ British orientalist and jurist
born Sept. 28, 1746, London
died April 27, 1794, Calcutta

      British Orientalist and jurist who did much to encourage interest in Oriental studies in the West.

      Of Welsh parentage, he studied at Harrow and University College, Oxford (1764–68), and learned Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian. By the end of his life, he had learned 28 languages, including Chinese, often by teaching himself.

      After several years in translating and scholarship, he turned, for financial reasons, to the study of law and was called to the bar in 1774. Meanwhile, he did not give up Orientalism. His Grammar of the Persian Language (1771) was authoritative in the field for a long time. His Moallakât (1782), a translation of seven famous pre-Islamic Arabic odes, introduced these poems to the British public.

      In 1783 he was knighted and sailed for Calcutta as judge of the supreme court. In 1784 he founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal to encourage Oriental studies. He himself took up Sanskrit, to equip himself for the preparation of a vast digest of Hindu and Muslim law. Of this uncompleted venture, his Institutes of Hindu Law was published in 1794 and his Muhammedan Law of Inheritance in 1792. In his 1786 presidential discourse to the Asiatic Society, he postulated the common ancestry of Sanskrit and Greek, his findings providing one of the earliest examples of the science of comparative linguistics.

      Jones's letters, edited by Garland Cannon, were published in two volumes in 1970. Cannon was also the author of a biography published in 1964.

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Universalium. 2010.

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