JUNKER, HEINRICH FRANZ JOSEF, scholar of Iranian, Indo-European, Korean, and general linguistics (b. 26 March 1889, Offenbach/Main, Germany; d. 3 April 1970, Berlin; Figure 1). Junker’s interest in exotic scripts and in languages in general inspired him to take up Iranian studies. He often said that it was his training in shorthand writing that first led him to try to read texts in Oriental scripts. That he became a specialist in Old Iranian philology is due to the influence of his teacher Christian Bartholomae, whom he met in Giessen and whom he followed to Strasburg and Heidelberg as his Spezialschüler (special pupil).

Junker chose as the subject of his thesis one of the most difficult and linguistically important Pahlavi texts, the Middle Persian dictionary of heterograms (a most appropriate term applied by Junker to Middle Iranian Aramaic spellings; see IDEOGRAPHIC WRITING) and their eteographic explanations, commonly known as Frahang ī pahlawīg. The thesis “Prolegomena to the Frahang ī Pahlavīk” was accepted in 1911, and the Ph.D. degree was awarded to Junker in 1912. The full edition of the Frahang text was published that same year as The Frahang i Pahlavīk, being the subject of his Habilitation (Junker, 1912a). The edition is an excellent, strictly methodical philological achievement, and its main merit is the use of more and better manuscripts than Salemann and others had been able to use in their earlier editions. A serious drawback was Junker’s disregard of the genuine character of the heterograms and his unwillingness to try to decode their basic Aramaic forms. Later, Junker readily hailed Erich Ebeling’s studies on the Semitic part of the Frahang (see Ebeling, 1941). But it took seventy-six years before a completely new edition by an expert in both Iranian and Semitic languages appeared in print (Nyberg, 1988). Junker himself returned to the subject in 1955 with a booklet entitled Das Frahang i pahlavīk in zeichengemäßer Anordnung (1955b). Although it was meant to be a modest, serviceable hilfsbuch (reference book) for students, it took into account the results of the contributions of Semitic studies that were by then accessible and noted, whenever possible, the older spellings of the Pahlavi Psalter. Junker’s edition of 1912 became a basic work of Iranian studies. The Persian edition of the Frahang by M. J. Maškur (1967/68) is based on Junker’s work.

The other major achievement of those years was Junker’s expedition, jointly undertaken with Robert Gauthiot in 1913, to the Zarafshan valley in Russian Central Asia where the Yaghnobi people, an ethnic minority, were living. Junker gave a brief report about the expedition in “Yaγnābī-Forschungsreise 1913” (1914b [1915]). The Yaghnobi language was important for both Gauthiot and Junker, since the linguistic position of Yaghnobi as an offspring of an ancient Sogdian dialect related to classical Sogdian was already known. Junker took an interest in the living language as such and gave relevant descriptions of its “literature” and dialectal grouping (1914a; 1930b).

During World War I, Junker served in a prisoner-of-war camp as an interpreter and translator.

In 1919, Junker received a call to the University of Hamburg as extraordinarius professor of Comparative Linguistics. In 1923 he became full professor (Professor Ordinarius) at the same university. It was in those years that Junker began, or accomplished, his most multifarious contributions to Old Iranian studies, of which he became a leading representative.

Junker contributed his opinion to the discussion, current at that time, of a possible influence of Iranian religion on other religious traditions. A particular problem of this kind was expertly discussed in his published lecture “Über iranische Quellen der hellenistischen Aionvorstellung” (1923b; cf. also 1925a). Junker tried to show that the Chronos apeiros and the apeiros aiōn of the inscription of Antiochos of Commagene were inspired by speculations about the Iranian Zurvān. Admittedly, this has remained a disputed, but stimulating, hypothesis, and a number of (unfortunately) forgotten, but nevertheless remarkable observations are to be found in this work, for instance, on the striking parallels between Manichean and Zoroastrian mythology.

In his study “Das Awestaalphabet und der Ursprung der armenischen und georgischen Schrift” (1925b, 1926a; repr., 1927a), Junker expressed sound criticism of the then famous and widely accepted “Andreas theory” (see ANDREAS), especially of its one-sided explanation of the transmitted Avestan text as a transcription of a Pahlavi (i.e., Arsacid text, but only in order to subscribe to the paleographic principles of Andreas’s theory. For confirmation, correction, or improvement of the “Andreas theory,” which has never been completely explained, he adduced the Armenian and Georgian alphabets, which, he postulated, went back to the Middle Iranian alphabets and proved the origin of the Avestan alphabet before 400 CE. This early origin of the Avestan alphabet allowed him to derive its letters from a combination of Middle Persian and Parthian letters. But if Junker’s thorough and learned study proved anything, it was the speculative character of any paleographic derivation of Avestan, Armenian, and Georgian letters from older Iranian alphabets, except for those Avestan letters that are evidently identical with those of the Pahlavi alphabets (Book Pahlavi, Psalms, inscriptions) in shape and sound value. A brief English summary of Junker’s essential ideas is given in “The Origin of the Avestan Alphabet” (1930a).

In addition to the above, a number of concise studies on special problems were produced in those years, such as: “Türkisch Šimnu ‘Ahriman’” (1925c), in which Junker, for the first time, suggested an Iranian etymology for Old Turkish Šimnu “devil” (convincingly, even if his explanation is in need of revision).

In 1926, Junker was given the prestigious chair of Sanskrit and Comparative Linguistic Studies at Leipzig University, held before him by Karl Brugmann. He became director of the Institute of Linguistics at Leipzig University and, in 1929, a member of the Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften; all this meant intensive work on languages and linguistic problems other than Iranian (see, e.g., 1931, 1935 [1936]).

However, the flow of studies on Iranian subjects did not end. Worthy of mention are his pioneering work in Bactrian studies (1930c) and an excellent analysis of the orthographic devices of a late Middle Persian text for rendering precisely the sound system of the text in Pahlavi letters; influence from both Pazand and (Islamic) New Persian spellings is proved (1932).

In 1933, Junker unfortunately became involved in the political affairs of the Third Reich, and in that year he became a member of the NSDAP, the National Socialist party led by Adolph Hitler. He soon ran into trouble with party authorities, however, because of an earlier initiation into a Masonic lodge. Either Junker left the party in 1939, or a party court declared his membership null and void—it is unclear which, or if both happened successively. However, Junker did keep his academic positions. In 1945, immediately after the collapse of the National Socialist regime and while still under American occupation, Junker was dismissed (he retired “on demand”) from Leipzig University and was excluded from the Academy of Sciences of Saxony.

In the ensuing years Junker worked as a “freelance academic author” and translator; among other things, he edited Sprachphilosophisches Lesebuch (1948) and published Russische Lehrbriefe (1952). He worked hard to regain his academic position at an East German university, and in 1951 he was appointed Professor Ordinarius for Iranian studies at the Humboldt-Universität Berlin (East). Many more university obligations soon followed. In 1953 he became director of the Institut für Iranische und Kaukasische Sprachen (since 1958 called the Vorderasiatisches Institut); in 1953 he was acting director and then director of the Indogermanisches Institut (since 1959 named the Sprachwissenschaftliches Institut); from 1959 onwards he was deputy director of the Ostasiatisches Institut and head of the department for Korean studies. Junker had first taken an interest in Indo-European loanwords in Korean and then extended his studies to Korean in general as a non-Indo-European contrastive language.

Junker’s accomplishments were officially honored several times, for instance, by his receiving the “Verdienstmedaille der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik” (Medal of Merit of the German Democratic Republic [G.D.R.]), and in 1960 the high-ranking title of “Hervorragender Wissenschaftler des Volkes” (Excellent Scientist of the People). On the occasion of his seventieth birthday, two issues of scholarly journals were devoted to him (Zeitschrift für Phonetik, Sprachwissenschaft und Kommunikationsforschung 17/6, 1964; and Mitteilungen des Instituts für Orientforschung 11/1, 1965). Junker formally retired in 1960 but remained acting director of the Vorderasiatisches Institut until 1968, and accepted teaching obligations until 1969.

The manifold non-Iranological scholarly and administrative activities and obligations beginning in the 1930s, a growing isolation from the scholarly world, and, last but not least, the effects of his unhappy political career became serious impediments to Junker’s further work in the field of Iranian studies. His own publications in this area from the two last decades of his life (see Bibliography) by no means maintain the standards of his earlier works, and, worse still, a growing idiosyncratic refusal to apply common ethical concepts to Old Iranian social life rendered his own work difficult (see, e.g., Deutsche Literaturzeitung für Kritik der internationalen Wissenschaft 88, 1967, col. 118).

On the other hand, Junker earned merit as the editor of works of others (for instance, Tavadia, 1956; Rypka et al., 1959) or as their collaborator (with Altheim and Stiehl, 1949; and with Tavadia, 1959). He was also organizer and co-author of the great team project involving himself and Bozorg Alavi, Persisch-deutsches Wörterbuch (1965a, and subsequent editions), the first comprehensive Persian–German dictionary and still an indispensable vademecum of Persian studies. Junker taught and trained a number of students, some of whom later held academic positions: in Berlin, Eckhardt Fichtner, Georg Hincha, Manfred Lorenz, Werner Sundermann, Peter Zieme; in Manchester, Paul Luft; in Leuven, Wojciech Skalmowski; in Baghdad and Sulaimaniya, Kamal Fuad (Kamāl Foʾād).

It is certainly to be regretted, at least from the point of view of Iranian studies, that Junker did not devote all of his scholarly energies to the promotion of Old Iranian studies, although this field owes much to him. On the other hand, it was Junker who, during the partition of Germany, upheld and continued the tradition of Iranian studies in the G.D.R. In Junker’s bequest some unfinished studies and essays were found; only a part of them is traceable now.

Bibliography :

Erich Ebeling, Das aramäisch-mittelpersische Glossar Frahang-i-Pahlavik im Lichte der assyriologischen Forschung, Leipzig, 1941.

M. J. Maškur, Farhang-e hozwārešhā-ye pahlavi, Entešārāt-e Bonyād-e farhang-e Irān no. 29, 1967/68.

H. S. Nyberg, Frahang i pahlavīk, ed. Bo Utas with the collaboration of C. Toll, Wiesbaden, 1988.

Selected works of Heinrich F. J. Junker.

Before 1920.

“Zur Flexion der altarmenischen Demonstrativa,” ZVS 43, 1910, pp. 331-51.

The Frahang i Pahlavīk, Heidelberg, 1912a.

“Ein mittelpersisches Schulgespräch. Pāzandtext mit Übersetzung und Erläuterungen,” in Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften (henceforth SHAW), Phil.-hist. Kl., 15.

Abh., Heidelberg, 1912b. “Iranische Parerga,” WZKM 28, 1914a, pp. 46-53.

“Drei Erzählungen auf Yaγnābī,” in SHAW, Phil.-hist. Kl., 14.

Abh., Heidelberg, 1914a. “Yaγnābī-Forschungsreise 1913,” Indogermanisches Jahrbuch [henceforth IJ] 2, 1914b [1915], p. 236.

“Collation Notes from Dēnkart, Book VI,” in Sir Jamshedjee Jejeebhoy Madressa Jubilee Volume, ed. J. J. Modi, Bombay, 1914c, pp. 105-15.

“Zu skr. mudrā,” IF 35, 1915, pp. 273-88.

“Some Remarks on the Dâtastân i Mênûk i Xrat,” in The Dastur Hoshang Memorial Volume, Bombay, 1918a, pp. 392-96.


“Robert Gauthiot,” IJ 6, 1918 [1920], pp. 126-29.

“Zur altrussischen Benennung des ‘Pferdes’,” ZVS 50, 1922, pp. 249-59.

“Frau Welt in Iran,” ZII 2, 1923a, pp. 237-46.

“Über iranische Quellen der hellenistischen Aionvorstellung,” Vorträge der Bibliothek Warburg 1, Leipzig, 1923b, pp. 125-78.

“Die indogermanische und die allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft,” in Stand und Aufgaben der Sprachwissenschaft. Festschrift für Wilhelm Streitberg, Leipzig, 1924, pp. 1-64.

“The Idea of Zurvan in the Iranian Literature and its Influence Elsewhere. An Abstract Translated by Jehangir C. Tavadia,” Journal of the K.R. Cama Oriental Institute 5, 1925a, pp. 1-10.

“Das Awestaalphabet und der Ursprung der armenischen und georgisches Schrift,” Caucasica 2, 1925b, pp. 1-82; 3, 1926a, pp. 82-139; repr. Leipzig, 1927a.

“Türkisch Šimnu ‘Ahriman’,” Ungarische Jahrbücher 5, 1925c, pp. 49-55.

“Np. āsān ‘leicht’ usw.,” Ungarische Jahrbücher 5, 1925d, pp. 411-16.

An ‘ich’ im Turfānpahlavī,” OLZ 28, 1925e, cols. 431-32.

“Iranica,” OLZ 29, 1926b, cols. 876-78.

“Christian Bartholomae,” IJ 11, 1927b, pp. 562-73 (with bibliography). “Mittelpers. frašēmurv ‘Pfau’,” Wörter und Sachen 12, 1929, pp. 132-58.


“The Origin of the Avestan Alphabet,” in Dr. Modi Memorial Volume, Bombay, 1930a, pp. 766-74.

Arische Forschungen. Yaghnōbi-Studien I. Die sprachgeographische Gliederung des Yaghnōb-Tales, Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Abh. Phil.-hist. Kl. 42/2, Leipzig, 1930b.

“Die hephthalitischen Münzinschriften,” SPAW, Phil.-hist. Kl., Berlin, 1930c, pp. 641-62.

“Gegenstand und Aufgaben der Sprachwissenschaft,” in Neue Jahrbücher für Wissenschaft und Jugendbildung 7, 1931, pp. 33-64 (Junker’s inaugural lecture at Leipzig University of 1927).

“Ein Bruchstück der Āfrīnaghān ī Gāhānbār,” in Berichte über die Verhandlungen der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, Phil.-hist. Kl. 84, 5, Leipzig, 1932.

“Sprachklangbilder,” Ungarische Jahrbücher 15, 1935, pp. 460-71.

“Rede auf Wilhelm von Humboldt und die deutsche Sprachwissenschaft,” Berichte über die Verhandlungen der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil.-hist. Kl. 87, 3, 1935, Leipzig, 1936 (extract).

“Vom Sprechrhythmus,” Rasse 3, 1936, pp. 461-65.

“Sprachfragen,” Leipziger Vierteljahresschrift für Südosteuropa 1, 1937a, pp. 3-17.

“Völkerkundliche Fragen in Iran, ” in Tagungsbericht der Gesellschaft für Völkerkunde 1936, Leipzig, 1937b, pp. 66-75.

“Hermann Hirt,” Archiv für Vergleichende Phonetik 1, 1937c, pp. 53-55.

“Die Bedeutung der Vokale,” Archiv für Vergleichende Phonetik 2, 1938, pp. 223-48.

“A nyelv ritmikai kutatás módszerei” (Methods of research into speech rhythm), Magyar Nyelv 36, 1940, pp. 209-24; 281-90.

“Inschriften aus Gruzinien,” Annuaire de l’Institut de Philologie et d’Histoire Orientales et Slaves 9, 1949, pp. 1-25 (with F. Altheim and R. Stiehl).


“Der Gotenname bei Persepolis,” Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur 74, 1952a, pp. 296-99.

“Koreanische Studien,” ADAW Berlin, Kl. f. Sprachen, Lit. u. Kunst, No. 5, Berlin, 1953.

“Zu den koreanischen Zahlwörtern,“ MIO 1, 1953a, pp. 288-312.

“Über Phoneme im Koreanischen,” Wiss. Zeitschr. d. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Gesellschafts- u. sprachwiss. Reihe 3, 1953/54, pp. 25-31.

“Die Umschrift des Koreanischen,” MIO 2, 1954, pp. 144-64.

“Zwölf koreanische Rätselfragen,” MIO 2, 1954a, pp. 477-91.

“Asien und Rom,” OLZ 50, 1955a, cols. 5-12 (rev. of F. Altheim and R. Stiehl, Asien und Rom: Neue Urkunden aus sasanidischer Frühzeit, Tübingen, 1952).

Das Frahang i Pahlavīk in zeichengemäßer Anordnung, Iranische Texte und Hilfsbücher 1, Leipzig, 1955b.

“Persepolis,” OLZ 51, 1956a, cols. 485-87 (rev. of E. F. Schmidt, Persepolis I, Chicago, 1953).

“Bau und Stellung des Koreanischen,” in Beiträge zur Einheit von Bildung und Sprache im geistigen Sinn. Festschrift zum 80.

Geburtstag von Ernst Otto, Berlin, 1957, pp. 145-54.

“Grundfragen des koreanischen Satzbaues,” Wiss. Zeitschr. d. Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, gesellschafts- u. sprachwiss. Reihe, 7, 1957-58, pp. 329-50.

Der wissbegierige Sohn. Ein mittelpersischer Text über das Kustik, ed. and tr. H. F. J. Junker, comm. J. C. Tavadia, Iranische Texte und Hilfsbücher 3, Leipzig, 1959.


“Wie soll man das Kurdische schreiben?” Kurdistan 1, 1960, pp. 6-12.

“Ein mittelpersischer Erntesegen,” in XXV. Internationaler Orientalistenkongress Moskau, 1960.

Delegation der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik. Kongressmaterialien. Kurzfassungen der Referate (without page numbers). “Die Sprachkunst des gōrānischen Nāyir-Epos,” MIO 10, 1964, pp. 123-32.

Persisch-deutsches Wörterbuch, Leipzig, 1965a (and subsequent editions; with B. Alavi).

“Zehn Jahre Iranistik an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin,” Wiss. Zeitschr. d. Humboldt- Universität zu Berlin, Gesellschafts- u. sprachwiss. Reihe, 14, 1965b, pp. 567-72.

“The Rhythm of Darius’ Epitaph,” in Yádnáme-ye Jan Rypka, Prague, 1967, pp. 29-35.

“Iranistische Parerga,” MIO 16, 1970, pp. 566-77 (posthumous publication).

For his numerous book reviews, see Zeitschrift für Phonetik, Sprachwissenschaft und Kommunikationsforschung 17, 1964, pp. 501-3.

Editions. H. F. J. Junker, Sprachphilosophisches Lesebuch, Heidelberg, 1948.

Russische Lehrbriefe 1-30, Berlin, 1952.

J. C. Tavadia, Die mittelpersische Sprache und Literatur der Zarathustrier, Iranische Texte und Hilfsbücher 2, Leipzig, 1956b.

A. Pultr, Lehrbuch der koreanischen Sprache, tr. O. Bilek, Berlin, 1958.

Ki San, Altkoreanische Bilder, Leipzig, 1958.

J. Rypka et al., Iranische Literaturgeschichte, Iranische Texte und Hilfsbücher 4, Leipzig, 1959.

B. Alavi, Geschichte und Entwicklung der modernen persischen Literatur, Iranische Texte und Hilfsbücher 5, Berlin, 1964.

(I thank Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst and Christiane Reck for valuable help and advice.)

(Werner Sundermann)

Originally Published: September 15, 2009

Last Updated: April 19, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XV, Fasc. 3, pp. 248-251