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Heinrich Gottfried Ollendorff

Heinrich Gottfried Ollendorff German linguist

German linguist
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro German linguist
A.K.A. Henri Ollendorff
Countries Germany
Occupations Linguist
Type Literature Social science
Gender male
Birth 1803 (Rawicz)
Death 3 April 1865 (Paris)
Education University of Jena
The details

Heinrich Gottfried Ollendorff (1803, Rawicz near Posen – 3 April 1865, Paris) was a German grammarian and language educator.

Ollendorff is heavily indebted to an early 'modern method' teacher, Jean Manesca, who appears to have written the first fully developed modern language course in the early 1820s—designed for French, Ollendorff was keen to see it adopted for the classics, and actively promoted the idea. His Oral system of teaching Living Languages Illustrated by a Practical Course of Lessons in the French through the medium of English was entered at the library of Congress in 1834.

In his introduction, on pg xix, Manesca writes,

If I have not spoken of the advantages that may be derived from the present mode of teaching applied to dead languages, it is not because I entertain the smallest doubt of its efficacy in that particular; for, on the contrary, I am confident that many years of toilsome, tedious, and almost fruitless labours, would be saved by the adoption of such a method for these languages. A well disposed young man, between eighteen and twenty, well versed in the principles of his mother tongue, would, in twelve months, acquire a sufficient knowledge of Latin or Greek for all the purposes of life. Such a consideration well deserves the attention of the few scholars competent for a task which would prove so beneficial to the present and future generation of collegiate students. The present modes of teaching the dead languages are sadly defective. It is high time that a rational, uniform method should be adopted.

Shortly afterwards, Henri Ollendorff adopted Manesca's methodology, and produced series of books using the 'Ollendorff' method, which follow Manesca extremely closely.

In the 1840s Ollendorff also wrote the first post-renaissance textbook for conversational Latin, the Nouvelle methode pour apprendre, a lire, a ecrire et a parler une langue en six mois, appliquee au Latin. Ollendorff's French text contains little on grammar, and is almost entirely intuitive, with learning based on practice alone, not theory. George J. Adler's American edition is an extensive revision of Ollendorff's first attempt, including grammar; this version of the Ollendorff text has 600 pages of very fine print, with copious exercises. Adler also expanded and re-wrote the Latin text, resulting a much higher quality textbook, with more elegant Latin, and a wider variety of examples based on the historical classic sources.

The French-Latin Ollendorff was, as far as can be ascertained, the first textbook written in modern times aimed at teaching Latin as a spoken language, using 'modern' methods. Manesca's method was never translated directly into Latin or Greek for publication, although it did appear in a Spanish edition written by Carlos Rabadan. Albert Brisbane's biography, where he describes in some detail his private classes with Manesca, says that he studied Latin using the same method. If Manesca ever wrote up any Latin exercises, perhaps they only survive in manuscript among his papers. The Ollendorff version went through several editions, and was quite popular for private pupils, but it was never taken up by schools for teaching Latin. Adler's American edition seems to have suffered the same fate, and original copies of it are very hard to come by, although it is now available as a reprint.

His name is used as an epithet in H.G. Wells' in The Island of Doctor Moreau (Chapter 16):

"Yesterday he bled and wept," said the Satyr. "You never bleed nor weep. The Master does not bleed or weep." "Ollendorffian beggar!" said Montgomery, "you'll bleed and weep if you don't look out!"

Montgomery is mocking the Satyr's repetitive discourse, as Ollendorff's texts rely heavily on repetition, likening this to playing musical scales. They also use artificially constructed sentences, which, while illustrating grammar and tense well enough, are extremely unlikely to occur in real life.

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