ATKINSON, Robert. Gateshead, Yorkshire 6.4.1839 — Rathmines near Dublin 10.1.1908. British Linguist (IE, Celtic and Sanskrit Scholar) in Ireland. Professor in Dublin. Born in Yorkshire as the only child of John and Ann A., school there. Studies at Trinity College in Dublin in 1856-57 and at Liège, Belgium 1857-58. Then school teacher at Kilkenny, also further studies at Dublin, from 1862 in full time. B.A. 1863 Dublin, M.A. 1866. Said to have known Sanskrit, French, Irish, Russian, Chinese, Tamil, Telugu, Persian, and Hebrew. From 1869 Professor of Romance Languages at Dublin, 1869 LL.D. From 1871 also Lottner’s successor as the Professor of Sanskrit and Comparative Philology at Dublin, continued almost until his death (retired 1907). Hon. D.Litt. 1891 Trinity College. In 1901-06 president of the Royal Irish Academy. Married 1863 Hannah Maria Harbutt, one son.

Atkinson was a many-sided scholar, whose research included Old Irish, Sanskrit, IE, Old French, and even Coptic. According to Grierson he was a Pāṇinean scholar, who knew all Aṣṭādhyāyī by heart (learnt on his own in Ireland – hardly), and was preparing an excellent dictionary to the Rigveda, but left it unfinished, when Grassmann’s work came out. In Dublin he also taught Dravidian (Tamil & Telugu) and privately even Hebrew. His interest in Irish was purely linguistic, which led to clashes with Irish nationalists. Said to have been the first, who formulated the principle of invariability of the sound laws. Also a botanist and a violinist. Among his students were R. W. Frazer and G. A. Grierson.

Publications: Mostly wrote on Old Irish, i.a. edited many texts, also on Romance languages; a couple of papers on Coptic. Maeso-Gothic Grammar. Lith. ed. for his students.

Sources: G.A. Grierson in JRAS 1908, 629-633; G.A.G[rierso]n, D.N.B. 2nd Suppl. 1, 1912, 68-70; D. Greene, “Robert Atkinson and Irish studies”, Hermathena 102, 1966, 6-15; L. Lunney, D.I.B. 1, 192f.; Wikipedia.

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