NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Peer reviewed Peer reviewed
Direct linkDirect link
ERIC Number: EJ874018
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2008-Sep
Pages: 17
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: N/A
ISSN: ISSN-0388-0001
Wilhelm von Humboldt and the "Orient": On Edward W. Said's Remarks on Humboldt's Orientalist Studies
Messling, Markus
Language Sciences, v30 n5 p482-498 Sep 2008
From an epistemological perspective, Wilhelm von Humboldt's studies on the Oriental and East Asian languages and writing systems (Egyptian hieroglyphs, Sanskrit, Chinese, Polynesian) raise the question of his position in the Orientalist discourse of his time. Said [Said, E.W., 1978. "Orientalism. Western Conceptions of the Orient, fourth ed." Penguin Books, London, 1995] considers Humboldt to be part of the "official intellectual genealogy" of a Eurocentric discourse on the "Orient", which served as an ideological legitimation of European colonialism. This judgement on Humboldt is due to the assumption that Humboldt's linguistic anthropology is based on the racial premises of a language typology formulated in 1808 in Friedrich Schlegel's "On the Language and Wisdom of the Indians" ["Uber die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier"]. Being an independent scholar, Humboldt may typify the non-political, at least noncolonial context of the genesis of Orientalist philology in Germany. Nonetheless, to state that a "cosmopolitan erudition" [Mangold, S., 2004. Eine "weltburgerliche Wissenschaft"--"Die deutsche Orientalistik" im 19. Jahrhundert. Franz Steiner, Stuttgart] was a main characteristic of German Orientalism must be considered as insufficient when it comes down to the concrete philological works in question, because Said's analysis targets the subtle intellectual measuring of "Oriental" cultures using Eurocentric criteria. Humboldt, whose linguistic position is generally characterized by the endeavour to combine universalism and cultural difference, especially in his Orientalist studies, has slipped on to Said's list of eurocentric and racist ideologists for reasons which should be given serious consideration. For this reason Humboldt's work shall be analyzed according to the main characteristics of Orientalism formulated by Said: the typological judgement on the Other, the interrelation between language and nation, and the religious discourse on the Indo-European origins of European civilization. It will become clear that Humboldt's position within the Orientalist discourse of his time is remarkably different from the one assumed by Said.
Elsevier. 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, FL 32887-4800. Tel: 877-839-7126; Tel: 407-345-4020; Fax: 407-363-1354; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Germany