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Grierson, George Abraham


Grierson, George Abraham (1851-1941) Anglo-Irish linguist and folklorist, noted for his research in Indian languages, was born on 7 January 1851 at Glanageary in Ireland. His father was a distinguished royal typographer. Grierson went to Trinity College, Dublin, where he studied sanskrit and Hindi.

Grierson qualified for the Indian Civil Service (ICS) examination in 1871. In 1874 he joined the Bengal Presidency, which, at that time, comprised of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. From 1874 to 1898, Grierson held various posts in rangpur, Howrah, Gaya and Patna. While working as a civil servant, he studied the language, literature and culture of the people. Several of his monographs were published in The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. In 1877, his studies of the folklore of North Bengal and the regional languages of Rangpur were published in the journal. In 1878, the journal published his compilation of The Songs of Manikchandra in Sanskrit script along with an English translation. Subsequently, The Songs of Gopichand and his study of the Maithili language appeared in the journal.

While living in Bihar, Grierson acquired considerable knowledge about the life and culture of the Bihar peasantry which is reflected in his Bihar Peasant Life (1885). Grierson also published Seven Grammars of the Dialects and Subdialects of Bihari Language (8 volumes, 1883-1890).

In 1898, the British government appointed him superintendent of the Linguistic Survey of India. For the next three decades Grierson attempted to collect material on every Indian language. His method of working was to supply his assistants with a story from the bible. The story would then be translated into the Indian language or dialect spoken by the people being surveyed.

In 1903, Grierson retired from government service and settled down in Surrey. He continued to work on the material he had collected. The Linguistic Survey of India was published in 20 volumes, consisting of 8,000 pages, from 1903 to 1927. The Survey includes 364 Indian languages and dialects and has served as the basis of modern Indian linguistics. In recognition of Grierson's contribution, he was knighted in 1912 and received the Order of Merit in 1928. The universities of Dublin, Oxford, Patna and Halle (Germany) awarded him honorary doctorates.

His other major publication includes a dictionary of the Kashmiri language. Apart from contributing to the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Grierson also contributed articles on Indian literature, culture, scripts etc, to the Indian Antiquary and other famous European journals. Grierson died on 7 March 1941. [Hakim Arif]