“Voices of the People”: Linguistic Research Among Germany's Prisoners of War During World War I


  • Judith Kaplan


This paper investigates the history of the Royal Prussian Phonographic Commission, a body that collected and archived linguistic, ethnographic, and anthropological data from prisoners-of-war (POWs) in Germany during World War I. Recent literature has analyzed the significance of this research for the rise of conservative physical anthropology. Taking a complementary approach, the essay charts new territory in seeking to understand how the prison-camp studies informed philology and linguistics specifically. I argue that recognizing philological commitments of the Phonographic Commission is essential to comprehending the project contextually. My approach reveals that linguists accommodated material and contemporary evidence to older text-based research models, sustaining dynamic theories of language. Through a case study based on the Iranian philologist F. C. Andreas (1846–1930), the paper ultimately argues that linguistics merits greater recognition in the historiography of the behavioral sciences.