Julius Pokorny

Julius Pokorny (12 June 1887 – 8 April 1970) was an Austrian-Czech linguist[1] and scholar of the Celtic languages, particularly Irish, and a supporter of Irish nationalism. He held academic posts in Austrian and German universities.

Early life and education

He was born in Prague, Austria-Hungary, and educated at the Piarist School in Prague and the Benedictine Abbey school in Kremsmünster, Austria. From 1905 until 1911, he studied at the University of Vienna, graduating in law and philology, and he taught there from 1913 to 1920.[2]


During World War I, Pokorny was involved in pro-German propagandist activities, inciting the Irish against England. He is known to have met and corresponded with Roger Casement, an activist for Irish independence who was executed in 1916.[3][4] Pokorny also served in the war as a reservist in the Austrian (Cisleithanian) Army starting in 1916.[5]

In 1920, he succeeded Kuno Meyer as Chair of Celtic Philology at Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin. Although baptised Catholic at birth and being sympathetic to German nationalism, he was suspended in 1933 under the Nazi Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, because of his Jewish ancestry. He was reinstated later that year under the exemption for those who had worn the uniform of Germany or its allies in World War I, which had been insisted on by President Paul von Hindenburg before he signed the bill into law. In 1935, he was dismissed under the provisions of the racist Nuremberg Laws. He continued to live more or less openly in Berlin until at least 1939, but lived a shadowy existence there from around 1940. He escaped to Switzerland in 1943,[6] where he taught for a few years at the University of Berne and at the University of Zurich until his retirement in 1959.

In 1954, he received an honorary professorship at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, where he taught part-time in 1956 and again from 1960 to 1965. He was awarded honorary degrees by the University of Wales at Swansea in 1965 and Edinburgh University in 1967.


He died in Zurich in 1970, almost three weeks after being hit by a tram not far from his home.


He was the editor of the important journal of philological studies Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie from 1921 until forced out by the Nazis in 1939, and was responsible for reviving it in 1954. He continued to edit it until his death in 1970. He is the author of the Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Indo-European Etymological Dictionary; 1959) which is still widely used today. He also published several collections of Irish writing in German translation, and a thoroughly pro-nationalist history of Ireland in 1916, which appeared in English translation in 1933.[7]

Pokorny was a dedicated supporter of the Pan-Illyrian theory and located the Illyrian civilisation's Urheimat between the Weser and the Vistula and east from that region where migration began around 2400 BC.[8] Pokorny suggested that Illyrian elements were to be found in much of continental Europe and also in Britain and Ireland. His Illyromania derived in part from archaeological Germanomania and was supported by contemporary place-names specialists such as Max Vasmer (1928, 1929)[9] and Hans Krahe (1929, 1935, 1940).[10]

See also


  1. Mees, Bernard (1996), "Linguistics and Nationalism: Henry d'Arbois de Jubainville and Cultural Hegemony", Melbourne Historical Journal 25, p. 55 (46–64): "Austrian-Czech Celticist".
  2. Ó Dochartaigh (2004), pp. 21–26.
  3. Ó Dochartaigh (2004), pp. 41.
  4. Doerries, Reinhard R., Prelude to the Easter Rising: Sir Roger Casement in Imperial Germany, Frank Cass, London & Portland 2000, p. 189
  5. Ó Dochartaigh (2004), p. 40.
  6. Keogh p. 103
  7. Pokorny, Julius, Irland, 1916; Pokorny, Julius, A History of Ireland, 1933.
  8. Pokorny, J. (1936) "Substrattheorie und Urheimat der Indogermanen", p. 213
  9. Vasmer, Max. 1928 "Beitrage zur alten Geographie der Gebiete zwischen Elbe und Weichsel" Zeitschrift für slawische Philologie 5.360–370.
  10. Krahe, Hans. Lexikon altillyrischer Personennamen (Dictionary of Old Illyrian personal names) (1929).

External links

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