CŒURDOUX, Gaston-Laurent. Bourges 18.10.1691 (or 18.12.?) — Pondichéry 15.6.1779. S.J. French Missionary Priest and Pioneer of Indology in India. Joined the S.J. in 1715, ordained 1725, left for South India 1732, and served in Madurai Mission in 1732-73, in 1744-51 as the superior of the mission. After the suppression of Jesuits in 1773 he lived in Pondichéry in retirement, now as a member of Missions étrangères. He knew at least Tamil, Telugu and some Sanskrit.
Cœurdoux was a scientist by nature. In 1730 he had published a study of aurora borealis. In the well-known memoir sent to A.I.B.L. 1767 he showed the relationship between Sanskrit and European languages well before Sir William Jones, but the text sent to Paris remained as manuscript and was published only in the beginning of the 19th century (1808). His excellent account of the manners and customs of South India was first copied by N.-J. Desvaulx in 1776/77 under his own name, possibly with the author’s consent, then further plagiarized by J.-A. Dubois in his 1817 book (Murr). The original text was also meant to be kind of apology of Jesuits and a criticism of the historical theories of Voltaire. In France, his work was largely ignored, because he was Jesuit.
Publications: Mœurs et coutumes des indiens 1777. Un inédit de père G.-L.C. s.j. dans la version de N.-J. Desvaulx. Éd. par S. Murr. 13+247 p. P.E.F.E.O. 146:1. P. 1987 (text on p. 1-189. N.b. It was not published in 1777 as e.g. Wikipedia claims).
– Some published letters in Lettres éfifiantes et curieuses, often discussing practical questions.
– The famous memoir on IE published in MAIBL 49, 1808, 647-667.
– A manuscript dictionary “télougou–français–samskroutam”, and other manuscript works (a Sanskrit grammar, on Indian astronomy and philosophy, on cartography), but most are lost.
Sources: C. Armenteros, “The Enlightened Conservatism of the Malabar Missions: G.-L. C. (1691-1779) and the Making of an Anthropological Classic”, Journal of Jesuit Studies 6, 2019, 439-66; L. Besse, “Miss. du Carnatic”, RHIF 2, 1916, 197-203; J. Dehergne, D.B.F. 9, 1961, 121; J. J. Godfrey, “Sir William Jones and Père C.: A philological footnote”, JAOS 87, 1967, 57-59 (cf. 89, 1969, 416f.); *A. Roşu, “Les missionaires dans l’histoire des sciences et des techniques indiennes 1. Un inédit jésuite sur la phytothérapie indienne au XVIIIe síecle”, JEAS 3, 1993; *Sweetman 2003, 145-148; I.G. Zupanov, D.O.L.F. 227f.; Wikipedia (not fully reliable).
Sylvie Murr, L’indologie du Père Cœurdoux: stratégies, apologétique et scientificité. P.E.F.E.O. 146:2. P. 1987; rather critical estimation of his “Indo-European hypothesis” by Edgerton in Sebeok 1966, 16f.
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