Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

M. B. Emeneau, 1904-2005, President of the Society, 1954-51, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal, 1949-51

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

M. B. Emeneau, 1904-2005, President of the Society, 1954-51, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal, 1949-51

Article excerpt

Murray Barnson Emeneau, Emeritus Professor of Linguistics and Sanskrit at the University of California, Berkeley, was the longest-lived Indologist and anthropological linguist of great distinction of the twentieth century. In the early hours of August 29, 2005, he died in his sleep at the age of 101 in his house in Berkeley, California. His life was a saga of scholarly dedication and prolific writing on a variety of indological themes in general, and Dravidian in particular. His Indian students had always looked upon him as a guru of the true Indian gurukula tradition. This writer was one of them. (1)

Emeneau's forefathers, who were seafarers, migrated to Halifax, Canada, from the Payee de Montbeliard (which later became a part of France) in the middle of the eighteenth century and were among the first settlers in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, along with other English, German, and Swiss Protestants. Emeneau was born on February 28, 1904 in Lunenburg. His father's death in 1912 left "the family very poor," and his "mother worked hard to make ends meet" (Emeneau 1991b: 91). Consequently, Emeneau evolved as a self-made person, who rose to great heights of eminence in his later life by dint of hard work. Emeneau stood first in his province in high school and was helped by a parliament member to go to college on a four-year scholarship. He received his B.A. Honors in Classics from Dalhousie University in 1923. He then went to Balliol College at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, where he earned a second bachelor's degree with honors in 1926. On his return, he went to Yale Graduate School as Instructor in Latin and continued his study of classics. He studied Sanskrit with George Bobrinskoy and was attracted to specialize further in it, in addition to comparative Indo-European. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1931, his dissertation an edition and translation with critical notes of Jambhaladatta's version of Vetalapancavimsati (a collection of Sanskrit folktales). This was published by the American Oriental Society in 1934. He studied Indo-European grammar, Sanskrit, and anthropological linguistics with such great scholars and teachers at Yale as E. H. Sturtevant, Franklin Edgerton, and Edward Sapir. Emeneau says he benefited from Sapir's courses on phonetics and field methods, which offered "virtuoso training in sounds which could be heard, learned and reproduced" (1991b: 94). Owing to the bleak prospects for a teaching position for a classicist to teach Sanskrit because of the "Great Depression," he was helped by his teachers to get fellowships to go to India for the next three years. Edward Sapir suggested that he study the Toda language in the Nilgiri hills in India. He had adequate training in anthropological linguistics from Sapir and had exposure to structural linguistics from Bloomfield before his long trip to India. Emeneau said (1991b: 95):

  It was the two teachers, Sapir and Bloomfield, from whom I learned the
  "modern" linguistics of the 30s--from Sapir in person as a teacher,
  and from Bloomfield's writings and later informal contacts.... I feel
  myself as a pupil of both men ...

During 1935-38 he visited India and did extensive fieldwork on the language and culture of several nonliterary Dravidian languages of South and Central India, mostly Toda and Kota and for a shorter period Badaga in the Nilgiri hills, Kodagu in Karnataka, and Kolami in Central India. On a short visit to northwest India (now Pakistan), he collected data on Brahui. It must be noted that when he did fieldwork in India, there were no tape-recorders, and all his recording and transcription were in longhand based on his sharp ear. (2) After his return from India in 1938, Emeneau continued at Yale, teaching linguistics and classics. In 1940, consequent on the sudden death of the Professor of Sanskrit, Arthur Ryder, Emeneau was appointed by the University of California, Berkeley, as Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Sanskrit in the Department of Classics. …

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