Carl Faulmann

Portrait: Carl Faulmann
Carl Faulmann, photographic portrait, circa 1875
SLUB Dresden / Deutsche Fotothek

Carl Faulmann

A pioneer in the study of writing in the 19th century

When Carl Faulmann published his ‘Illustrierte Geschichte der Schrift’ in 1880, his work was the first universal history on the subject and stood alone on the academic landscape of the day.

Harald Haarmann, Geschichte der Schrift: Von den Hieroglyphen bis heute, 2002

Carl Faulmann was born in Halle an der Saale in 1835 and initially trained to be a typesetter. A subsequent phase of extensive travels led him to Munich, where in 1854 he saw shorthand types from the Royal Court and State Printers in Vienna. Faulmann was inspired by the experience to develop similar versions for the stenography system by Franz Xaver Gabelsberger popular primarily in the southern part of Germany. In 1855 he receiving a posting as “typesetter for foreign languages” at the court in Vienna and realised his ambition. After four years he resigned from state service and worked as a stenography teacher and typesetter. On the side he continued to augment his language skills auto-didactically, learning Hebrew, Persian and Sanskrit, among others.

Out of these endeavours came various works on linguistic fundamentals that were continually re-issued for decades. In 1878 Faulmann published his Das Buch der Schrift (The Book of Script), in which he undertook his first attempt at systematic collection and representation of all known writing systems from around the world. This was followed two years later by his Illustrierte Geschichte der Schrift (The Illustrated History of Script), which – though pioneering at the time – is today considered outdated: steeped in the Eurocentric zeitgeist of his age, Faulmann attributed to Germanic runes the status of an ancient script on a par with the much older Egyptian hieroglyphs. In the years that followed, he published further works such as the Illustrierte Geschichte der Buchdruckerkunst (The Illustrated History of the Art of Printing, 1882) and the Etymologische Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (The Etymological Dictionary of the German Language, 1881-83). In 1884, Carl Faulmann was named professor of stenography at the University of Vienna.