Marianne Mithun awarded an honorary degree

Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald a.aikhenvald at LATROBE.EDU.AU
Sun Aug 31 01:18:04 UTC 2003

The Vice-Chancellor and President of La Trobe University, Professor Michael
Osborne, has instituted an annual event. Each year, a leading world
linguist will, at a special ceremony, be awarded the degree of Doctor of
Letters (honoris causa) after which they will deliver a public lecture.

Professor Marianne Mithun, from the University of California, Santa
Barbara, was the first recipient of this honour. On 13 August 2003,
Professor  Mithun, was presented with the Honorary Degree and delivered a
most well-received public lectures entitled 'Alternative worlds in peril:
what do we lose when a language disappears?'

At the Honorary Degree Ceremony, Professor Alexandra Aikhenvald (Associate
Director of the Research Centre for Linguistic Typology, which nominated
Professor Mithun) read out the following citation:

Professor Marianne Mithun
Citation for award of Degree of Doctor of Letters (honoris causa)

Marianne Mithun is one of the two or three leading scholars in linguistic
typology in the world today; she is currently President of the Association
for Linguistic Typology.
         Amongst Mithun's many contributions to the typology of human
languages, those on noun incorporation, on grammaticalisation, and on
ergativity and active/stative languages are absolutely seminal. All studies
on these topics, by linguists from every continent, are in terms of
Mithun's parameters and generalisations. Mithun has pioneered an inductive
methodology for typological research, drawing on her extensive first-hand
fieldwork experience and on an unparalleled knowledge of the linguistic
literature spanning six continents.
         She has, in addition, done valuable work on word order,
causatives, negation, number systems, alienable and inalienable possession,
realis/irrealis marking, switch reference, pronominal systems,
coordination, voice, number systems in grammar, demonstratives,
evidentials, and noun classes. Her work on the nature of polysynthesis and
of inflection has attracted favourable comment. In the subfield of
phonology she has made contributions on sibilant harmony, and on topics in
prosody. She has also done substantial work on language contact, on
morphological and syntactic change, and on syntactic reconstruction.
         Mithun's main field of empirical specialisation is the indigenous
languages of the USA and Canada. She is the leading expert on languages of
the Iroquoian family, having written grammatical monographs on Tuscarora
and Cayuga, and also undertaken fieldwork and published papers on Mohawk,
Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Susquehannock, Huron, Wyandot and Cherokee. Other
American Indian languages on which she has worked include Lakhota, Dakota
and Tutelo (Siouan family), Central Pomo (Pomoan family), Chumash,
languages of the Hokan family, and Yupik (Eskimo-Aleut family).  From
outside North America, she has published important work on the Romance
languages and on Selayarese and Kapampangan (Austronesian family).
         Mithun was co-editor of and a major contributor to The languages
of North America: historical and comparative assessment (University of
Texas Press, 1979) which was for two decades the major reference work in
this area. It was superseded by Mithun's sole-authored work, The languages
of Native North America (Cambridge University Press, 1999), one of the
finest linguistics book it has been our pleasure to read. In masterly
fashion, Mithun provides a typological characterisation of the wealth of
languages across the continent, assesses both professional and amateur
source materials, and provides a judicious overview of genetic
relationships. This volume was awarded the Leonard Bloomfield prize for the
best monograph published in a two-year period across all fields of linguistics.
         Following her PhD at Yale (on Tuscarora), Marianne Mithun taught
at the State University of New York at Albany, Since 1986 she has been
Professor in the distinguished Linguistics Department of the University of
California at Santa Barbara. She is on the editorial boards of the
prestigious journals Studies in Language and Linguistic Typology. Her many
consultancies include working with the consortium of the six Mohawk
Nations, and of the Tuscarora Nation.
         Much of Mithun's work has been with endangered languages, and she
has also published interesting studies on the typology of language
obsolescence. She has devoted time and effort to training native speakers
of American Indian languages to become linguists for their own languages,
and has published on literacy issues and on orthography planning.
         All in all, Marianne Mithun is without peer in the breadth of her
work, the depth of explanation she achieves, and the many manifest
contributions she has made to the advancement of linguistic knowledge,
which further our understanding of the cognitive language ability of the
human race.

At 09:56 AM 12/05/2002 +0000, you wrote:
>Dear Sasha,
>Would it be possible for you to e-mail or fax me the table of contents
>of the book you and Bob recently edited on "Areal Diffusion and Genetic
>Inheritance: Problems in Comparative Linguistics"?  I'd like to give it
>a mention in the next SSILA Newsletter.  (Anything else recently
>published that I should know about?)  My fax number at home is
>What do you and Bob think of the new journal, "LIAMES - Linguas
>Indigenas Americanas", that the UNICAMP people are starting up?
>All the best,

Professor Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, FAHA
Associate Director
Research Centre for Linguistic Typology
Institute for Advanced Study
La Trobe University
Bundoora, Vic
Australia 3086

e-mail a.aikhenvald at

phone:  61-(0)3-9479-6402 Uni
                 61-(0)3-9455-0020 home

fax             61-(0)3-9467-3053

More information about the Lingtyp mailing list