Murray Barnson Emeneau

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28 FEBRUARY 1904 * 29 AUGUST 2005


BORN IN LUNENBURG, Nova Scotia, Emeneau had an unusually long and productive career as professor of Sanskrit and linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a founder of the linguistics department and of the Survey of California Indian Languages; he was elected to the APS in 1952. He died peacefully at his home in Berkeley on 29 August 2005, aged 101. In his later years, he was often asked whether he owed his longevity to any particular regimen of life; he always answered, "No, just genes." In fact, medical researchers have discovered in recent years that Emeneau's hometown of Lunenburg produces the highest percentage of centenarians in North America.

Emeneau was first trained in classics at Dalhousie University, Halifax, and at Oxford University. In 1926 he began the study of Sanskrit and comparative Indo-European at Yale, where he received his doctorate in 1931 with a dissertation on Sanskrit. From then until 1935, he did postdoctoral study at Yale under the direction of the leading anthropologist and linguist Edward Sapir. From him Emeneau eagerly absorbed not only the then-new "structural" linguistics, but also Sapir's distinctive approach to what was later called "anthropological linguistics." As he wrote in later years, "I was exposed to methods of fieldwork on non-literary languages, including intensive phonetic practice and analysis of material, but especially to Sapir's approach to anthropological linguistics, in which language is only part of the total culture, but a most important part, since in it the community expresses in its own way, 'verbifies' its culture."

With Sapir's help and guidance, and with grants from sources including the APS, Emeneau spent the years 1935-38 doing fieldwork on unwritten Dravidian languages of India, in particular on Toda. Back in the U.S., after teaching linguistics at Yale for a year, Emeneau was hired in 1940 as assistant professor of Sanskrit and general linguistics at Berkeley; he rose rapidly, becoming full professor by 1946, and later chair. He was a prolific interdisciplinary writer throughout his career, in areas ranging from Sanskrit philology to Dravidian linguistics to cultural anthropology, and he constantly urged his students to begin their own publication records. In 1971 he retired to emeritus status, but he continued his research, publication, and participation in academic activities well into his nineties. …