BRÉAL, MICHEL JULES ALFRED:
French philologist; born of French parentage at Landau, Rhenish Bavaria, March 26, 1832. He received his education at Weissenburg, Metz, and Paris. In the last-named city, after his studies at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand were completed, he entered the Ecole Normale. He continued his studies at Berlin under Albrecht Weber and Franz Bopp, the founder of the science of comparative grammar. Returning to France in 1859, Bréal became professor at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand and afterward an assistant in the department of Oriental manuscripts at the Bibliothèque Impériale, Paris, where he succeeded Ernest Renan and remained until chosen in 1866 to fill the chair of comparative grammar at the Collège de France, the duties of which he had already discharged for two years. In 1863 he had presented two theses to the Faculté des Lettres of Paris, "Hercule et Cacus" and De Nominibus Persicus apud Scriptores Græcos," to obtain the title of Docteur et Lettres. When the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes was founded in 1868, Bréal became director of the section of comparative grammar, and seven years later (1875) was elected a member of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-lettres. From 1879 to 1888 he was inspector-general of higher education; and the rank of officer of the Legion of Honor was conferred on him in 1881. He has been commander since 1888.
Bréal did not confine his energy to comparative linguistics, but has written (in the "Revue des Deux Mondes") on comparative mythology and pedagogy, as well as on subjects of more general interest. As a linguist he follows his old teacher Bopp, whose comparative grammar he translated under the title "Grammaire Comparée des Langues Indo-Européennes," 5 vols., Paris, 1867-78. This work, to which the translator added valuable introductions and notes, is somewhat remarkable as being one of the few instances in which a translation, rather than the original text, is generally regarded as the standard of reference. Like many scholars of Latin Europe, Bréal has devoted his attention rather to the psychological than to the mechanical side of linguistics. This trend of his thought is clearly shown by his articles, "Les Lois Intellectuelles du Langage, Fragment de Sémantique," in "Annuaire de l'Association des Etudes Grecqucs," 1883; "Comment les Mots Sont Classés dans Notre Esprit" ("Comptes Rendus de la Séance Annuelle de l'Institut," 1884); and most of all by his last important work, the "Essai de Sémantique" (Paris, 1897; 2d ed., 1899; also translated into English by Mrs. Henry Cust, London, 1900), in which he sets forth the science of the development of different significations possessed by a word.
In the individual languages of the Indo-Germanic group Bréal's work has been more particularly in the Greek and Italic dialects. It will suffice to mention his paper "Sur le Déchiffrement des Inscriptions Cypriotes," in the "Journal des Savants," 1877; his work on the Euguvine Tablets, published with texts, translations, and notes as a volume of the "Bibliothèque de I'École des Hautes Études" (Paris, 1877); and his "Dictionnaire Étymologique Latin" (Paris, 1885), written in cooperation with Anatole Bailly, who was also joint author with him in his "Leçons de Mots: les Mots Latins" (1881-82); while L. Person assisted him in the preparation of "Les Mots Grecs" (1882). He has done little work in languages outside the Indo-Germanic group; his brief note on an "Inscŕiption Etrusque Trouvée à Carthage," in the "Journal des Savants," 1899, being almost his only study in this category.
Bréal has also contributed much to comparative religion. In 1862 he published a memoir, "Etude des Origines de la Religion Zoroastrienne," which was crowned by the French Institute; and in his "Hercule et Cacus," which first appeared in the following year, he sought to show the value of linguistics in the solution of problems of comparative mythology. His study, "Sur le Mythe d'Œdipe," in the "Revue Archéologique," 1863, was an attack on the symbolic mythologists by an adherent of the analogical school.
Of Bréal's contributions to pedagogics, his essays, "Quelle Place Doit Tenir la Grammaire Comparée dans I'Enseignement Classique?" (1872), "De I'Enseignement des Langues Anciennes" (1890), "La Réforme de l'Orthographie Française" (1890), and"Quelques Mots sur l'Instruction Publique en France" (1872; 3d ed., 1881), as well as his "Excursions Pédagogiques" (1882), are especially noteworthy. Bréal's briefer contributions on linguistic subjects have appeared chiefly in the "Mémoires de la Société de Linguistique," of which he has been the secretary since 1867. He has published but one paper outside of France, a contribution "On the Canons of Etymological Investigation," in the "Transactions of the American Philological Association," 1893. Twelve of his briefer essays have been reprinted in his "Mélanges de Mythologie et de Linguistique" (Paris, 1877; 2d ed., 1882).
- De Gubernatis, Diz. Biog. s.v.;
- Vapereau, Dict. Univ. des Contemporains, s.v.