Heinrich Barth and Linguistics
Heinrich Barth
Page from Heinrich Barth's "Vocabularies"

With his background in linguistics, Heinrich Barth was well versed in the methods of historical linguistic research and applied them to the study of the African languages he came across on his travels. Besides English, French and Arabic Barth spoke several dialects of the Tuareg language as well as Kanuri, the official language of the Bornu Empire, Hausa, the chief lingua franca of West Africa, and also Songhai and Fulani, the language of the Fulbe. He also compiled extensive vocabularies of nine West African languages, which enabled him to trace linguistic relationships and historical links between different peoples. In the mid-nineteenth century these methods were revolutionary, so that Barth can rightly be said to be the founder of the scientific study of African languages. Une page des "vocabulaires" de Heinrich Barth

"Jeder der fremde Länder besucht hat, weiß, wie unendlich leichter man sich da deren Sprache aneignet, als im langweiligen Studium ohne Anhalt daheim." (Barth 1862)