[lg policy] Obituary: Horace Lunt (1918-2010)

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 6 16:15:52 UTC 2010

[Moderator's note: this message is actually very relevant to the
subject of language policy.  (HS)]

Obituary: Horace Lunt (1918-2010)

At the end of his first year at Harvard in 1937–38, Horace Lunt decided to
concentrate in Russian studies on the basis of his recent study of the
language, so different from the Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, and German
he had already pursued before coming to Cambridge. His adviser, Samuel
Hazzard Cross, encouraged him to stay with German instead, because in
Russian 'there is no chance for a job.' Lunt received his degree magna cum
laude in German in 1941 with a senior honors thesis on Herman Hesse, but he
had been bitten by the Russian bug and ultimately ignored Cross’
well-meaning advice, going on to become one of the world’s leading experts
in Slavic philology and linguistics.

Horace Gray Lunt, Samuel Hazzard Cross Professor of Slavic Languages and
Literatures, Emeritus, at Harvard University, passed away on August 11,
2010, in Baltimore, Maryland, scarcely a month short of his ninety-second
birthday. At Harvard he was a member of the Slavic Department faculty from
1949 to 1989 and served as its chair from 1959 to 1974. Lunt served on the
Executive Committee of the Russian Research Center (now the Davis Center
for Russian and Eurasian Studies) from 1965 to 1992, and on the Executive
Committee of the Ukrainian Research Institute from its founding in 1973 to
1991. He was Director of the Slavic and East European Language and Area
Center from 1983 to 1989. Armed with considerable linguistic and analytic
skills, Lunt was instrumental in reshaping Slavic philology in the United
States in structuralist terms. He insisted on the highest standards of
textual analysis, providing new pedagogical tools for the post-World War II
generation of American Slavists, investigating understudied areas of Slavic
linguistics, and indicating new projects for in-depth study in Slavic
languages, literatures, and cultures. A staunch foe of nationalistic
exploitation of language for political purposes, Lunt strove his entire
career to ensure that linguistic argumentation rested on a rational,
factual basis, countering any discussion based on nationalism or
demagoguery. Lunt was a superlative teacher, providing his students,
undergraduate as well as graduate, with abundant handouts, charts, texts,
and textbooks to ensure comprehensive understanding of the subject matter
at hand, with clarity and accuracy his guiding principles. His interests
in Slavic languages were wide-ranging, from paleography, phonology,
morphology, and syntax to etymology, sociolinguistics, history, literature,
and religion, and he leaves behind large bibliography of published books,
articles, and reviews.

Lunt was born Horace Gray Lunt II in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on
September 12, 1918, son of Horace Fletcher Lunt (Harvard 1898) and Irene
Jewett Lunt, and the grandson of Horace Gray Lunt (Harvard 1870), his
namesake. He was the youngest of four children and the only son. He traced
his ancestry back to the Englishman Henry Lunt, who founded Newburyport,
Massachusetts in 1634. His great-grandfather Orrington Lunt, together with
John Evans, founded Northwestern University in the newly settled Chicago
suburb of Evanston in 1851.

Following early public schooling in Denver, Lunt attended the Kent School
in Connecticut from 1932 to 1937, graduating at the head of his class,
having demonstrated a particular talent for languages. After his graduation
from Harvard in 1941, Lunt made his way to Berkeley to complete a one-year
master’s degree program in Russian with George Rapall Noyes and Alexander

Drafted into the army in September, 1942, Lunt demonstrated typing skills
that resulted in his swift promotion to corporal as the head of his
Louisiana medical unit (despite his lack of medical training). His
aptitude for linguistics soon earned him a transfer to the Counter
Intelligence Corps and a new assignment in Egypt followed by a stint in
Italy, interviewing Yugoslav refugees, embellishing his knowledge of
Serbian and Croatian, and learning Slovene as well.

He returned to Berkeley in November, 1945, to accept a teaching
assistantship in Russian for the academic year. In the summer of 1946 he
decided to develop his knowledge of modern linguistics by enrolling in the
Linguistic Society of America Summer Linguistic Institute, held at the
University of Michigan. It was here that he took classes from some of the
leading American descriptivists of the day and that he made the
acquaintance of the eminent émigré Russian structuralist Roman Jakobson,
who had finally found a permanent position that year at Columbia
University. Jakobson, who would prove to be a pivotal figure in Lunt’s
career, reviewed Lunt’s plan to accept a fellowship from the Czechoslovak
Ministry of Education to study Slavic linguistics with some of the
outstanding Czech linguists of the day at Charles University in Prague,
including Antonín Frinta, whose lectures on the newly official Macedonian
language would spark a particular interest in the budding young Slavist.
After a twelve-month stay, Lunt was obliged to abandon Prague because of
the worsening post-war political climate in Eastern Europe. He entered the
Ph.D. program at Columbia in the fall of 1947 to study under Jakobson’s
supervision, and taught Serbo-Croatian in 1948–49 while completing a
dissertation entitled 'The Orthography of Eleventh-Century Russian
Manuscripts,' in which he demonstrated his impressive philological skills
in distinguishing graphemic system from scribal error.

Lunt’s undergraduate mentor at Harvard, Samuel Hazzard Cross, had suffered
a fatal heart attack in 1946, leaving the nation’s oldest Slavic program
without a leader. Russian historian Michael Karpovich stepped into the
breach, gained the support of a Harvard administration that had established
the Russian Research Center in 1948, and helped found the Department of
Slavic Languages and Literatures in 1949. Karpovich had entered into
successful negotiations with Roman Jakobson to move to Harvard that very
fall. Jakobson encouraged the new chair to hire Lunt as an assistant
professor as well. A golden age of Slavic studies was about to commence
and it would be the Harvard Slavic Department, with the addition of a
number of distinguished, mostly émigré, scholars to its faculty, that would
fundamentally alter the field by training scores of new American Slavists
to take up college and university posts in Slavic linguistics and
literatures across the nation over the next several decades, especially
after the launching of Sputnik in 1957. The Cold War and the space race it
generated created strong interest in Slavic, and especially Russian,
studies, a significant turn that resulted in increased government funding
for new programs and research.

The return to Cambridge was a mixed blessing for Lunt. Professionally it
afforded an unmatchable opportunity to participate in the renaissance of
Slavic studies together with Jakobson, not to mention the chance to work
with the rich collections of Slavic materials Harvard libraries and
archives could offer a scholar of his caliber. But as a son of the Rocky
Mountains, Lunt understood that he was committing himself to life in an
ancestral New England he had experienced from his youth as narrowly
parochial and confining, a corollary to which he ultimately resigned
himself. For relaxation, he occupied himself with sight reading classical
music on the piano, puttering around the garden, and reading detective stories.

Lunt’s beginnings at Harvard were largely devoted to creating new course
materials for teaching the Russian language and Old Church Slavonic (OCS),
the oldest written form of Slavic, whose mastery is vital for the study of
Slavic linguistics and literatures. Descriptive grammars and other
reference materials in English were either nonexistent or woefully
inadequate. Lunt’s early efforts resulted in the publication of his Old
Church Slavonic Grammar in 1955 and his Fundamentals of Russian in 1957.
In both works he demonstrated the advantage of applying structuralist
techniques to the description of a language, ancient or modern, to reveal
its coherent grammatical system, as shown in the operation of the rules
governing the use of alphabets, the sound system, the formation and
derivation of words, and the structure of the sentence. Revised in 1968,
Fundamentals of Russian remained a standard of Russian language instruction
for over a quarter of a century. Old Church Slavonic Grammar, now in its
seventh revised edition (2001), remains one of the best OCS grammars in any
language because of its comprehensive coverage, its clarity of explanation,
and its rich exemplification.

Lunt’s meticulous attention to detail was no more evident than in his
signature course, Old Church Slavonic, typically taken by first-year
graduate students with a good knowledge of Russian. Unlike many
instructors of such courses who spend most of a semester teaching the
intricacies of OCS grammar and then follow up with readings from a few
Gospel selections at the end of the term, Lunt presented a brief overview
of the grammar and then immediately plunged students into the reading and
analysis of the texts themselves, arming them with his own reference
materials and notes to help them cope with the difficult material. Lunt
always tried to maintain the atmosphere of a team effort, asking pertinent
questions where needed to move the inquiry to a successful conclusion. It
was a baptism of fire that was both intimidating and salutary, eliciting
similar subsequent reactions from linguistic and literature students who
viewed Lunt’s OCS class as one of the most intensive, well organized, and
analytically stimulating courses they had ever taken. He enjoyed equal
success in teaching courses in the history of Russian (for which he
ultimately published the Concise Dictionary of Old Russian (11th–17th
Centuries in 1970), readings in Slavic texts, comparative Slavic
linguistics (an excursus for which was published as The Progressive
Palatalization of Common Slavic in 1981), and a host of specialized courses
in Slavic philology and linguistics.

Being of non-Slavic origin in a field still dominated by native-born Slavic
scholars in the 1940s and 1950s, Lunt was able to address sociolinguistic
issues squarely on a factual basis rather than resorting to argumentation
based on nationalistic ideology or cultural bias. His 1950 attendance at
the first Yugoslav seminar in Bled led to his meeting Blaže Koneski, the
distinguished Macedonian philologist, who urged his American colleague to
learn more about the Macedonian language and culture in situ. The
fieldwork pursued by Lunt the following summer served as the basis of his
groundbreaking work, A Grammar of the Macedonian Literary Language, which
appeared in 1952, the first such grammar in English. The work sparked
immediate controversy between those Slavic linguists and cultural
historians who felt the push for a codified Macedonian language was
historically supportable, and their opponents, who viewed Macedonian as
nothing more than a western dialectal variant of Bulgarian and therefore to
be discussed only within the context of Bulgarian dialectology. Lunt later
recalled that it was during the summer of his fieldwork in June, 1951, that
he learned of a smuggled Bulgarian newspaper that denounced Yugoslav
language policies and sharply criticized all attempts to establish a
standard Macedonian language. The paper went on to state that 'local talent
was insufficient and the hapless Yugoslavs had been forced to import a spy
to create the language for them. Takiva horaslantovtsi nam ne triabvat! [We
don’t need such Horace Luntites!].' Lunt recalled 'feeling flattered at the
powers attributed to me, and rather pleased at the notion of a political
heresy named after me.' Greeks, on the contrary, were outraged that the
name Macedonian could be assigned to a non-Greek tongue, and protested
vigorously against the very notion of a Slavic Macedonian people and its
language. Both disputes rage on to this very day. As so often in his
career, Lunt refused to remain silent on such issues. He courageously
dismantled in scholarly articles, reviews, and letters to the editor the
flimsy arguments of those manipulating linguistic and historical facts to
stifle the cultural, political, and linguistic authenticity of minority
ethnic groups. For his role in contributing to the codification of
literary Macedonian, Lunt was accorded foreign membership in the Macedonian
Academy of Sciences in 1969, the first American citizen to earn that high

Lunt’s devotion to the truth, regardless of cultural and political
consequences, was as firm as ever nearly a half century later in the 1998
publication 'The Slavonic Book of Esther: Text, Lexicon, Linguistic
Analysis, Problems of Translation,' coauthored with Moshe Taube of Hebrew
University in Jerusalem. Despite a clearly garbled textual history that
points to a Ruthenian scribal tradition for the oldest surviving
manuscripts (from ca. 1400), Lunt and Taube were able to show through
careful linguistic and textological analysis that the earliest Church
Slavonic version of the Book of Esther was based not on an original Hebrew
text presumably translated by a Jew, but rather on a noncanonical, no
longer extant Greek translation from the Hebrew, traceable only through its
Church Slavonic progeny. This analysis undercut a view long favored in
Russia of a culturally and ethnically diverse and tolerant ancient Kievan

Lunt’s high academic standards and dedication to accuracy and
comprehensiveness made him a formidable writer of reviews, taking to task
any scholar, novice or distinguished academician, who professed to be
discussing a problem or set of issues coherently and accurately, when in
fact the evidence showed quite the opposite. A recipient no doubt cringed
upon reading evaluations like 'distressingly unsatisfactory,' 'scandalously
bad,' 'incompetence and professional irresponsibility,' '[the book] has its
good points, but reliability unfortunately is not one of them,' and 'We
have the right to demand clear and adequate explanations; based on coherent
theory,' especially since they were typically reinforced by a cascade of
examples of inaccuracy, inconsistency, anachronism, and opaqueness.

In September, 1973, Omeljan Pritsak, the Director of the newly founded
Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard, suggested convening a weekly
two-hour seminar during the academic year to discuss Lunt’s ongoing
translation of the Primary Chronicle, the most important source for the
early history of the East Slavs. Lunt would prepare several pages of
translation distributed ahead of time, which would be evaluated on the
basis of the most recent edition published in 1950 by the doyen of Soviet
medievalists, Dmitrii Likhachev. The seminar featured a discussion among
the major figures of Slavic medieval studies at Harvard: Ihor Ševčenko
(Byzantine studies), Edward Keenan (East Slavic history), Pritsak (Turkic
studies and East European history and geography), and Lunt. Interested
post-doctoral scholars and graduate students witnessed the proceedings from
the sidelines. A single sentence, phrase, or even word could ignite an
arcane interchange of expert opinion that insured that perhaps only about a
half page of Lunt’s translation would be covered. The seminar met
faithfully every week for six straight years. Lunt’s translation of the
Primary Chronicle, also known as the Pověst’ vrěmennyx lět (PVL) ‘The Tale
of Bygone Years’ or, as Lunt preferred to reconstruct the title, Pověst’
vrěmen i lět ‘The Tale of Seasons and Years’, was completely validated in
the seminar with only an occasional tweak or two recommended over the
years. In the process, Likhachev’s reconstruction of the PVL was itself
discredited as inaccurate and biased towards one of the major underlying
texts. Lunt served as senior consultant for a new reconstruction of the
PVL that appeared in 2003. Weeks before his death, Lunt gave his final
approval to the text of his nearly four-decades-long translation project,
now slated for publication by the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute.

Lunt was promoted from assistant professor to associate professor in 1954
and received a tenured full professorship in 1960, the same year he was
named a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow. In 1973 he succeeded Roman Jakobson
as the Samuel Hazzard Cross Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures.

He is survived by Sally Herman Lunt, his wife of forty-seven years,
daughters Elizabeth Gray Lunt and Catherine Lunt Greer, son-in-law David S.
Friedman, M.D., and five grandchildren. His remains will be interred in a
private ceremony in Colorado Springs.

A memorial commemoration of Lunt’s life and work will be held on Friday,
October 22, 2010, at 3:00 p.m. in the Fong Auditorium of Boylston Hall at
Harvard University. A reception will follow in the Faculty Club.

In lieu of flowers, his family requests that donations in his memory be
sent to the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Harvard
University, 12 Quincy Street, Barker Center, Cambridge, MA 02138.

Michael S. Flier

Oleksandr Potebnja Professor of Ukrainian Philology

Harvard University


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