Paul Jules Antoine Meillet (French: [ɑ̃twan mɛjɛ]; November 11, 1866, Moulins, Allier – September 21, 1936, Châteaumeillant) was one of the most important French linguists of the early 20th century. Meillet began his studies at the Sorbonne, where he was influenced by Michel Bréal, Ferdinand de Saussure, and the members of the Année Sociologique. In 1890 he was part of a research trip to the Caucasus, where he studied Armenian. After his return, since de Saussure had gone back to Geneva, he continued the series of lectures on comparative grammar that the Swiss linguist had formerly given.
Meillet completed his doctorate, Research on the Use of the Genitive-Accusative in Old Slavonic, in 1897. In 1902 he took a chair in Armenian at the École des langues orientales. In 1905 he was elected to the Collège de France, where he taught on the history and structure of Indo-European languages. One of his most famous quotes is "anyone wishing to hear how Indo-Europeans spoke should come and listen to a Lithuanian peasant." He worked closely with noted linguists Paul Pelliot and Robert Gauthiot.
Today Meillet is remembered as the mentor of an entire generation of linguists and philologists who would become central to French linguistics in the twentieth century, such as Émile Benveniste, Georges Dumézil, and André Martinet.
Antoine Meillet and Homeric Studies
At the Sorbonne, beginning in 1924, Meillet supervised Milman Parry. In 1923, a year before Milman Parry began his studies with Meillet, Meillet wrote the following (which, in the first of his two French theses, Parry quotes):
Homeric epic is entirely composed of formulae handed down from poet to poet. An examination of any passage will quickly reveal that it is made up of lines and fragments of lines which are reproduced word for word in one or several other passages. Even those lines of which the parts happen not to recur in any other passage have the same formulaic character, and it is doubtless pure chance that they are not attested elsewhere.
Meillet offered the opinion that this pattern (the so-called Oral Formulaic Hypothesis) might be a distinctive feature of orally transmitted epics (which the Iliad was said to be). He suggested to Parry that he observe the mechanics of a living oral tradition to confirm whether this suggestion was valid; he also introduced Parry to the Slovene scholar Matija Murko, who had written extensively about the heroic epic tradition in Serbo-Croat and particularly in Bosnia with the help of phonograph recordings. From Parry's resulting research in Bosnia, the records of which are now housed at Harvard University, he and his student Albert Lord revolutionized Homeric studies.
Meillet and international languages
Meillet supported the use of an international auxiliary language. In his book The Search for the Perfect Language, Umberto Eco cites Meillet as saying, "Any kind of theoretical discussion is useless, Esperanto is functioning". In addition, Meillet was a consultant with the International Auxiliary Language Association, which presented Interlingua in 1951.
- 1902-05: Études sur l'étymologie et le vocabulaire du vieux slave. Paris, Bouillon.
- 1903: Esquisse d'une grammaire comparée de l'arménien classique.
- 1903: Introduction à l'étude comparative des langues indo-européennes.
- 1908: Les dialectes indo-européens.
- 1913: Aperçu d'une histoire de la langue grecque.
- 1913: Altarmenisches Elementarbuch.
- 1917: Caractères généraux des langues germaniques (rev. edn. 1949)
- 1921: Linguistique historique et linguistique générale.
- 1923: Les origines indo-européennes des mètres grecs.
- 1924: Les langues du monde (co-editor with Marcel Cohen). (Collection linguistique, 16.) Paris: Champion. (2nd edn. 1952)
- 1924: Le slave commun
- 1928: Esquisse d'une histoire de la langue latine.
- 1925: La méthode comparative en linguistique historique (The comparative method in historical linguistics translated by Gordon B. Ford, Jr., 1966)
- 1932: Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine.
- Meillet, Antoine (1923), Les origines indo-européennes des mètres grecs, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, p. 61. Adam Parry's translation, revised.
- Lord, Albert Bates (1960), The singer of tales, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, pp. 11-12; Dalby, Andrew (2006), Rediscovering Homer, New York, London: Norton, ISBN 0-393-05788-7, pp. 186-187.
- Parry, Milman; Parry, Adam (editor) (1971), The making of Homeric verse. The collected papers of Milman Parry, Oxford: Clarendon Press
- Nneer, Simajro (2006), "Umberto Eco diris ...", an article in Kontakto, a quarterly in Esperanto language, Nr. 213, p.14, Rotterdam: Universala Esperanto-Asocio
- Esterhill, Frank (2000), Interlingua Institute: A History, New York: Interlingua Institute.