Friday, January 28, 2005

Jacob Grimm and Law(s)

[What is a good font for blog postings? Our previous posts use the Verdana font. This posting uses Trebuchet. Is it better for reading longer texts? Tell us what you think in the comments if you have an opinion. We may have some more variations in the coming posts.]

Jacob Grimm is one of the most famous scholars to have studied law. Grimm is best known in English-speaking countries for his collection of "Grimm's Fairy Tales". What is lesser known is that Grimm is also remembered in the world of linguistics for having discovered "Grimm's Law", the most famous law in all of linguistics, and for collecting ancient Germanic myths, tales and legends, some of which later came to be known as the "fairy tales" of our childhood (even though many such tales may in fact have some actual historical background).

Interesting is the following analysis of the connection between law and language - between the legal and the linguistic - found at the Wikipedia article on
Jacob Grimm, which is almost a verbatim copy of the public domain 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica entry on Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm. Note, however, the great amount of work which has gone into creating the Wikipedia links, which the 1911er does not have.

The Wikipedia entry for Jacob Grimm has this paragraph on law and linguistics:

"Although, by the introduction of the Code Napoleon into Westphalia, Grimm's legal studies were made practically useless, he never lost his interest in the scientific study of law and national institutions as the truest exponents of the life and character of a people. By the publication (in 1828) of his Rechtsalterthumer, he laid the foundations of historical study of the old Teutonic laws and constitutions which was continued with brilliant success by Georg L Maurer and others. In this work Grimm showed the importance of linguistic study of the old laws, and the light that can be thrown on many a dark passage in them by a comparison of the corresponding words and expressions in the other old cognate dialects. He also knew how (and this is perhaps the most original and valuable part of his work) to trace the spirit of the laws in countless allusions and sayings which occur in the old poems and sagas, and even survive in modern colloquialisms."

Today, the people of the law should pay more attention to what the linguists are doing, because much of what the linguists are doing is not correct.

Of interest is Grimm's statement that law and national institutions are the truest exponents of the life and character of a people.

How do you change the society of peoples on our planet whose modern and historical character is one of lawlessness and the lack of the rule of law? Is this not the major problem in the Middle East and in other places of strife and conflict on our planet?

What do we do with peoples whose national character is manifested by their bowing down to idols (of religion) or by their allegiance to a rule by men (i.e. to rule by the whims of tyrants or religious despots) rather than by a rule by law? That in our opinion is the major modern problem of the current clash of civilizations.

We would ask: if a nation by the character of its people does not value individual freedom, can we ever really give it to them? or will they always revert back to the tyranny from which we are trying to free them? Perhaps there is no choice available but to act according to the most optimistic of answers, whereas those with a pragmatic bent of mind may be sceptical about the ultimate outcome.

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