Peter Stephen DuPonceau (born Pierre-Etienne Du Ponceau) was a French linguist, philosopher, and jurist. He was born in St-Martin de R on June 3, 1760, and died in Philadelphia on April 1, 1844. He spent the majority of his life in the United States.
DuPonceau's education took place at Benedictine College, where he gained an interest in Linguistics. However, he abruptly ended his education after only 18 months over a dissatisfaction with the scholarly philosophy taught at the college. He emigrated to America in 1777, at age 17, with Baron von Steuben. Once there, he served as a secretary for Steuben in the Revolutionary Army. After the war, he moved to Philadelphia, where he would spend the rest of his life.
DuPonceau joined the American Philosophical Society in 1791 and served as president of it from 1827 until his death. He became famous in the field of linguistics for his analysis of Indigenous languages of the Americas, as a member of Society's Historical and Literary Committee, he helped build a collection of texts detailing the native languages of the Americas. His book concerning their grammatical systems (Mmoire sur le systeme grammatical des langues de quelques nations Indiennes de l'Amrique du Nord) won the Volney prize of the French Institute in 1835.
DuPonceau was also one of the first western linguists to hold the view that Chinese writing was based on spoken words, and not ideas and concepts. He used the example of Vietnamese using chu Nom at the time to show that the Vietnamese employed Chinese characters primarily for sound and not for meaning. It would be over 100 years before this idea would become accepted in linguistic circles.