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Heinrich Gottfried Ollendorff

Heinrich Gottfried Ollendorff

German linguist
Heinrich Gottfried Ollendorff
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro German linguist
A.K.A. Henri Ollendorff
Was Linguist
From Germany
Type Literature Social science
Gender male
Birth 1803, Rawicz, Poland
Death 3 April 1865, Paris, France (aged 62 years)
The details


Heinrich Gottfried Ollendorff (1803, Rawicz near Poznań – 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. Indeed, Mark Twain ridicules Ollendorf's sentences––questions in particular––for just that quality, in Chapter XXX of his memoir of his years in Nevada and California, Roughing It (1872): "Before leaving Carson, the Secretary and I had purchased 'feet' from various Esmeralda stragglers. We had expected immediate returns of bullion, but were only afflicted with regular and constant 'assessments' instead—demands for money wherewith to develop the said mines. These assessments had grown so oppressive that it seemed necessary to look into the matter personally. Therefore I projected a pilgrimage to Carson and thence to Esmeralda. I bought a horse and started, in company with Mr. Ballou and a gentleman named Ollendorff, a Prussian—not the party who has inflicted so much suffering on the world with his wretched foreign grammars, with their interminable repetitions of questions which never have occurred and are never likely to occur in any conversation among human beings." Twain has in mind such sentences as these, from an Ollendoforian primer meant to teach English to speakers of French, Nouvelle Méthode de H. G. Ollendorff Pour Apprendre À Lire, À Écrire Et À Parler Une Langue Clef de la grammaire anglaise à l'usage des français, ou Traduction des thèmes contenus dans cet ouvrage:

"Have you any more partridges ? — No, Sir, I have sent them all to my uncle. — Do you want any more paper? — I want a great deal. — How many pair of scissors have you left? — I have six pair left. — Of whom do you speak? — I speak of the lazy scholars of the good teachers. — Of which teachers ? — Of those whom you know. — At what o'clock do you come back from your shop? — I usually come back at a quarter before eight. — Is the young Frenchman, who lives at your house, still at home? — Yes, he is still at home, but in bed. — Why is he in bed so late? — He came back from the theatre at about midnight or a quarter past twelve yesterday, and now he has the head-ache. — When does he usually go out in the morning? — He usually goes out at a quarter or twenty minutes past nine. — Do you come home late in the night? — No, I usually come home about ten o'clock. — Do you go immediately to bed? — Yes, I go immediately to bed, but I read a long time in my bed. — It is a bad habit, it spoils your eyes, and you could set your bed-room on fire. — Is your brother here? — He is somewhere, but not here. — Is he at home? — No, he is somewhere else. — Where do you go to-night? — I go into the country. — Does your brother go there also? — No, he goes nowhere."

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 10 Mar 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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