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Coeurdoux entered the novitiate of the Jesuits in 1715, was ordained in 1725 and made his final religious profession as a Jesuit in 1731, at Orleans. Shortly after, he left for India, and arrived in the Madurai Mission (now in Tamil Nadu in south India) in 1732.
Missionary and religious superior
Coeurdoux first studied Telugu, a major language of the Dravidian group, so as to work in the region of present Andhra Pradesh, in particular Krishnapuram, Bukkapuram, and Darmavaram Madigubba (1736 to 1737). In 1737, for health reasons he had to return - and stay - in Pondicherry. He was superior of the mission of Karnataka from 1744 to 1751, while serving the 4000 Catholic Tamils in Pondicherry. As superior he had to enforce, against his own inclinations, the very restrictive statement of Pope Benedict XIV (12 September 1744 ) on the 'Malabar rites'. Convinced of the importance of the contemplative life, he met some young Tamil girls and with them founded a convent of Carmelite nuns in 1748.
Coeurdoux is best known today as an Indologist. Good at languages, he composed a Telugu-French-Sanskrit dictionary which is still authoritative. Disciple of the Jesuit philologist Jean Calmette, whom he knew personally in India, he was particularly interested in comparative linguistics. Max Muller called him the father of comparative philology. He was in contact with the French Indologists Anquetil-Duperron, Joseph Nicolas de l'Isle. In a Memoire sent in 1767 to the Academy of Sciences (France) he demonstrated the similarity between the Sanskrit, the Latin, the Greek and even the German and Russian languages. His observations were later compiled and published by others in Europe. He himself never returned to his homeland. Anquetil-Duperron had published a whole chapter after the French Revolution. Abbe Dubois also used them, passing them to the British East India Company in Madras as his own work (1808). It was only recently, thanks to the work of J.J. Godfrey and Sylvia Murr (see Bibliography), that Coeurdoux's role in the discovery of the relationship between Sanskrit and the ancient languages of Europe was re-established.
- Mœurs et Coutumes des Indiens. Ed. N.-J. Desvaulx. 1777.
- DE SMET, Richard. Review of Sylvie Murr, Vol. 1: Moeurs et Coutumes des Indiens (1777): Un inédit du Père G.-L. Coeurdoux, S.J. dans la version de N.-J. Desvaulx. Vol. II: L’Indologie du Père Coeurdoux (Paris: Ecole Francaise d’Extrême Orient, 1987). Indian Theological Studies 27 (1990) 371-373.
- FERROLI, Domenico. The Jesuits in Malabar. 2 vols. Bangalore, 1939/1951.
- GODFREY, J.J. "Sir William Jones and Pere Coeurdoux: a philological footnote." Journal of the American Oriental Society. 87 (1967)57-59.
- MURR, Sylvie. L'Inde philosophique entre Bossuet et Voltaire - I. Moeurs et coutumes des Indiens (1777). Un inedit du Pere G.-L. Coeurdoux, SJ, dans la version de N.-J. Desvaulx. Vol. 1. Ed. Sylvie Murr. Paris: Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient, 1987. Pp. 247.
- MURR, Sylvie. L'Inde philosophique entre Bossuet et Voltaire - II. L'indologie du Pere Coeurdoux. Stratégie, Apologétique et Scientificité. Vol. 2. Ed. Sylvie Murr. Paris: Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient, 1987. Pp. 250. ISBN 2-85539-746-4
- Richard De Smet, Review of Sylvie Murr, Vol. 1: Moeurs et Coutumes des Indiens (1777): Un inédit du Père G.-L. Coeurdoux, S.J. dans la version de N.-J. Desvaulx. Vol. II: L’Indologie du Père Coeurdoux (Paris: Ecole Francaise d’Extrême Orient, 1987), Indian Theological Studies 27 (1990) 371-373.