Academic journal article Journal of Slavic Linguistics

Horace G. Lunt in Memoriam

Academic journal article Journal of Slavic Linguistics

Horace G. Lunt in Memoriam

Article excerpt

Professor Horace Gray Lunt II was born in Colorado Springs on September 12, 1918, and died in Baltimore on August 11, 2010. The trajectory of his lengthy and distinguished career at Harvard University has already been described elsewhere: in Jan Perkowski's introduction to the 1978 Folia Slavica collection of studies in his honor, and more recently in Michael Flier's reminiscence on the Linguist List mailing list (21.3534). Accordingly, this is a more personal recollection.

One of the unexpected things I learned from Horace concerned the early history of what we might call Slavistics in the United States. From 1809 until 1814 John Quincy Adams had served as our country's first ambassador to Russia (officially the "Minister Plenipotentiary in the Russian imperial capital of St. Petersburg"). In the 1830s, concerned that Americans did not know as much as they should about Russia, he donated a small number of books about Russia to the Harvard College Libraries. I learned these facts from an informal presentation that Horace delivered to a group of members and friends of the Harvard Slavic Department one evening in 1986, in a graduate student's apartment. Although most of the details about his own biography that Horace shared that evening found their way into the published version of that conversation (a review article about the history of Slavic Studies in the United States in Slavic Review 42(2)), what Horace emphasized for us, with characteristic modesty, was that his birth date placed him just a year or two ahead of most of the generation of American Slavists who emerged during the flowering of the discipline in the wake of the first Sputnik launch in 1957. This timing meant that he was present for the education and training of a good part of the next several generations of American Slavists, continuing the tradition inaugurated at Harvard by our sixth president of taking steps to ensure that Americans know something about the Slavic lands and peoples.

As a freshman at Harvard in 1937, Horace had never heard of linguistics, although, like many a prep-school student of his generation, he had studied several foreign languages: Greek, Latin, French, German, and (somewhat unusually for the time) Spanish. Horace's initial interest in Russian emerged from a simple desire to round out his acquaintance with the major language families of Europe and, at the urging of Samuel Hazzard Cross, he majored not in Russian, but in German, writing a B.A. honors thesis on "Herman Hesse since 1928." Horace's early graduate studies at Berkeley with George Rapall Noyes were followed by service abroad during the war, and then by a decision to study in Prague on a Masaryk Fellowship in 1946. In Prague his Czech colleagues expressed surprise that an American would choose to study Slavic linguistics in Europe when Roman Jakobson was, after all, in the United States. Horace had met Roman Osipovic in 1946 at the Summer Linguistic Institute of the Linguistic Society of America, where Jakobson was lecturing on Indo-European metrics. Although Horace recalled having had considerable difficulty understanding both the content of the lecture and Jakobson's English pronunciation, they did have an amiable conversation about Prague. When Ernest Simmons visited Prague in 1947 and encouraged Horace to complete his degree at Columbia, where Jakobson was teaching, Horace relocated to New York, where he defended his dissertation on "The orthography of eleventh-century Russian manuscripts" in 1949. That same year Michael Karpovich succeeded in persuading Jakobson to move to Harvard, bringing with him Horace, Svatava Pirkova Jakobson, fourteen current Columbia graduate students, and five newly admitted Columbia graduate students who had not yet begun their studies. The "renaissance" of Slavic studies in the States in general and at Harvard in particular slowed slightly in the mid-1950s, but the tremendous increase in federal funding that emerged after Sputnik in 1957 (a new reason for our government to think that Americans should know something about Russia) meant that for most of his career Horace found himself teaching in one of the most active and productive North American centers for Slavic studies. …

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