Rufino Jose Cuervo Usarri, the great scholar erudite of Colombia

This is a tribute to Rufino Jose Cuervo.


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He was born in Bogota, Colombia on 19 September 1844.

He was a philologist, humanist and a great erudite man from Colombia.

He was the initiator of the Dictionary of construction and regime of the Castilian language, a lexicographical study of large proportions, which remains thoroughly the origin and modification of the meaning of the words of the Spanish language.

The parents of Rufino José were Francisca Urisarri and Rufino Cuervo, vice president of the Republic during the mandate of the general Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera.

Rufino José was the last of seven brothers, three of whom died in childhood and youth.

He was baptized by the Archbishop of Bogota, Manuel Jose Mosquera, a friend of his father.

His childhood was spent in his father’s house, located in the barrio La Cathedral (today called La Candelaria neighborhood), where traditionally they lived the most distinguished families of the capital; there received, directly from his father, the first teachings, due to the chaos that was the education after the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1850.

He had a huge capacity for assimilation and observation.

After his father died in 1853, Rufino Jose Cuervo received special lessons in Latin and Spanish.

In 1860 Rufino Jose Cuervo studied with don Santiago Perez, who introduced the teachings of Andres Bello  in Colombia.

Because of the political and social instability prevailing in Colombia, the intellectual education of Cuervo could not be continuous, consistent and methodical; with all the cloisters closed in 1861, his education came to a premature end when he was 17 years old.

The following six years are a period of silence in his life, but it is presumed that he had a huge dedication to study alone and persevering of the linguistic disciplines.

To alleviate the poor economic situation of his family, Cuervo was devoted, for a short time, to the teaching.

He was a professor of Latin at the College of the Rosary, between 1867 and 1868, and in the Seminario Conciliar of Bogota he taught latin and greek in 1868; in 1870 was devoted to the Latinity, and left the teaching.

In these years, he wrote, along with Miguel Antonio Caro, the original text of the grammar of the Latin language for the use of those that speak Spanish, that appear in the results of the research carried out so far by the philologists highlights of the time; by means of the comparison between the modalities of the spanish and latin, and the continued use of examples taken from the most notable writers, the Latin grammar of Caro y Cuervo lays the foundations of modern linguistics, using a method that is ahead the best today.

According to Fernando Antonio Martinez, this work was considered by the Spanish Royal Academy a magisterial work, the best of its kind written in Castilian.

Caro y Cuervo, the two most outstanding personalities of the philology, appear here in the United plan but far apart in development.

According to Martínez, the analogy, that part treated by Cuervo, was regarded as a astute analysis; the syntax, treated by Caro, a complete synthesis.

Well, the Latin grammar reveals the joint work of a scholar of language and a philosopher of language.

As the economic situation worsened, Cuervo left teaching to dedicate himself to work in the factory of beer he had founded with his brother Angel in 1868.

According to Fernando A. Martinez, Cuervo lived going by inns and taverns awaiting and returning.

However, during these years Cuervo continued with his philological training, and it is suspected that it was in those and undoings by taverns and inns, where compiled the particularities of the language of Colombia.

Scholar of the progress of comparatism European linguistic movement and of the scientific literature and that was taking place within the field of philology, his intellectual preparation was already almost full.

As he progressed in his readings, Cuervo toward rapid advances and insurance, as their “Apuntaciones” critical language on the Bosa (1867 – 1872), the sample for a dictionary of the Spanish language (1872) and language studies.

The linguistics of Rufino Jose Cuervo  was so extensive that he covered several trunks of language: Armenian, Celtic, Danish, Dutch, Flemish, Greek, Latin, Lithuanian, Russian, Swedish, Sanskrit, and within the romance languages: French, Italian, Portuguese and Provencal, counting with the spanish, whose dialect gave information sharing. Also referring to the Basque, and in the field of the Semitic languages, Arabic and Hebrew.

Fernando A. Martinez said: If Rufino Jose Cuervo had continued bounded by the field of comparatism, could have been one of the first indo-european of the nineteenth century.

In parallel, Cuervo is endeavoring to preserve a circle of social relations in which the figures that stand out are those of Venancio Gonzalez Manrique, his collaborator in the sample, the doctor Ezekiel Uricochea y, who kept abreast of the news of European literary and scientific, and, especially, Miguel Antonio Caro.

He was admitted to the Royal Spanish Academy on 5 November 1878 as an honorary member and corresponding of Colombia.

He was an honorary member and corresponding member of the Mexican Academy of the language.

Rufino Jose Cuervo was one of the greatest intellectuals of Latin America.  He was a great erudite man.

He died in Paris, France, on July 17th of 1911, he was 66 years old.

Celebrating Rufino Jose Cuervo!


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