September 16, 2005

More on Murray Emeneau

I don't have Arnold Zwicky's illustrious history -- he has been President of the LSA, for starters -- but we are in the same generation, so I too have met most or all of the LSA's former presidents starting with Emeneau, and one before Emeneau, Adelaide Hahn. Some of the earliest presidents I met because Bernard Bloch -- LSA president in 1953, long-time editor of Language, and teacher extraordinaire -- always got invited to all the best parties at LSA meetings, and he would take us callow students along. (Bloch would say to the host, as we trailed in behind him, that he was sure the host wouldn't mind having a few of his students join the group. The hosts probably did mind, of course, but they didn't say so.)

I also share Arnold's great respect for Murray Emeneau. When I first got interested in language contact thirty years ago, and started reading around in the literature, Emeneau was the person who seemed to have the best account of the dynamics of contact -- even more than Uriel Weinreich, my other intellectual hero in this domain, whose classic book Languages in Contact (1953/1968) is surely cited more than any other work on language contact. Emeneau wrote extensively on this topic, but his most famous language-contact publication is his 1956 article `India as a Linguistic Area' (reprinted in 1964): it's a ground-breaking article, and it is not outdated even now, so it's still well worth reading. It's also right, in my opinion, but issues of language contact in India enjoy...or suffer from, depending on one's viewpoint...various political and intellectual controversies, so not everyone will agree with me on that point.

I met Emeneau just once, several years ago when he was in his late 90s: I was visiting Berkeley, and he came to campus to meet me. I was recovering from the flu at the time and feeling ill and groggy, but when he came in the door I leapt to my feet and barely refrained from bowing. He was a giant in our field, and if I had time to google the quotation so I could get it right, I could add the bit about his like not coming again. Posted by Sally Thomason at September 16, 2005 07:33 AM