Horace Lunt

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Wayles Browne

Horace Lunt (1918–2010)


Note: A translation, with minor updates, of the obituary by W. Browne that appeared in Croatian in Slovo 61. 311-315 (Zagreb 2011).

Horace Gray Lunt II was born in an America that barely knew of Slavic studies as a scholarly field. Of the numerous immigrants who at that time could still come in relatively unhampered from Slavic lands, some continued to cultivate the languages of the old country, publishing newspapers and books in them and speaking them in religious, social, and trade-union organizations, while others sought to switch to English and become Americanized as soon as humanly possible. Few indeed were the universities that offered even the rudiments of Russian or of the South Slavic languages, traditionally difficult for the American eye to tell apart.

Lunt arrived at Harvard in 1937 and expressed an interest in Russian language and culture, but his most logical choice of mentor, the Russian historian and pioneering Slavic studies professor Samuel Hazzard Cross (1891–1946), is said to have advised him to instead take up German literature (in which he got his A.B. in 1941), since there would be no job prospects for a Slavist.

In the United States of Lunt’s youth, general linguistics was also not widely recognized. It was developed largely in the hands of anthropologists, who in the 1920s and 1930s worked more and more intensively on American Indian cultures and languages, but only rare universities offered courses in linguistics as an independent field. Nor did ethnographically-oriented North American linguistics have close contacts with philology in the European sense or with the languages of the Old World.

The situation suddenly changed when the Second World War broke out. For one thing, the Armed Forces realized that soldiers and other non-academics would need to acquire—and quickly—a knowledge of a variety of languages, both European and Far Eastern. The task of creating courses and lessons was entrusted to the new science of linguistics, and many linguists found themselves spending many hours a day in a classroom with a native speaker of Japanese or Burmese, Dutch or Russian, and together making groups of draftees capable of conversation or intelligence work. Another important factor was the arrival of displaced Europeans in the United States; along with well-known physicists, mathematicians, writers and musicians, some linguists and Slavists found refuge here. Surely the most famous and influential of the latter was Roman Jakobson (1896–1982), who transplanted the achievements of the Moscow and Prague schools to the New World.

During Lunt’s wartime service in Egypt (and Italy), he had occasion to encounter South Slavic languages spoken both by allied-country soldiers and by internees. After the war he was able to spend a year in Prague studying under A. Frinta, who was the first to mention the Macedonian language to him. But a rise in international tensions led him to return to the US. At Columbia University he completed a PhD in two years under Jakobson, writing a dissertation on “The Orthography of 11th Century Russian Manuscripts” (1950), which was the first in a long series of works on early Slavic topics. Jakobson was offered a chair at Harvard in 1949 to fill the vacancy left by the death of Samuel Hazzard Cross, and brought Lunt with him from New York to Cambridge. Together they educated the first significant generation of American and mostly American-born Slavists and established firm links between Slavic and general linguistics. A striking example of the resulting “personal union” is Morris Halle (1923–2018), who came as a teenager from Latvia; after gaining a PhD in Slavic under Jakobson and Lunt at Harvard, Halle became the closest collaborator of the general linguist Noam Chomsky at MIT. Even in the present century there are notable professors teaching both linguistics and Slavic at such universities as The Ohio State University and Indiana University.

With the help of Blaže Koneski, Lunt spent the year 1951 in Skopje collecting material for his book A Grammar of the Macedonian Literary Language (Skopje 1952), the first description of the new standard accessible to a foreign audience. His field work aroused some suspicions in the Yugoslav authorities and even more in neighboring countries which for political reasons were unwilling to recognize the existence of Macedonians and a Macedonian language. Lunt is credited with the choice of the 3rd person singular present (instead of the 1st singular) as the citation form of Macedonian verbs, since it more clearly distinguishes their conjugation types.

Readers of Slovo (the journal of the Staroslavenski institut) will be most interested in Lunt’s works on Old Slavonic. His Old Church Slavonic Grammar appeared for the first time in 1955. Besides being written in English, it brought in a number of innovations as compared with previous grammars published in German and French. The approach was strictly synchronic, since the author held that one must first gain a practical understanding of the language and only then use it for comparative historical studies or other purposes. Historical considerations are visible only in discussions of changes which were in process as the canonical manuscripts were being written, such as the gradual vocalization of strong jers and omission of weak ones, and the expansion of productive aorist types and of the newer past active participle in -vъ (molivъ) in i-stem verbs (moli-) at the expense of the older *-jь type (moljь). The mention of stem types brings up one more feature of the book: verbs are not classified exclusively by their present stems, nor by their infinitive-aorist stems. Instead Jakobson’s treatment is used: for each type one sets up a basic stem which enables the formation of all the forms of a particular verb by applying a series of morphophonemic rules. Thus the type dělati, dělajǫ is reduced to a stem dělaj-, most clearly visible in the present, whereas the type glagolati, glagoljǫ is assigned a basic stem in –a, namely glagola-, which is seen in the infinitive. Jakobson proposed such a classification for Russian in 1948, and since then it has been successfully applied to all Slavic languages—except for Macedonian, where treatment in terms of the primary stem (3rd singular present) and secondary (the aorist stem) is more functional.

The OCS Grammar arose from the concrete experience of teaching the language to students. Prof. Lunt hand-copied a series of texts for his students, adding commentaries; some were normalized and others faithfully copied from the manuscripts. Further, he compiled a small OCS-English dictionary (Old Church Slavonic Glossary, 1959, second corrected edition 1969) which was never officially published but never ceased circulating through North America in photocopies. (Michael Flier of Harvard made a reset 3rd edition available in electronic form in 2014.) One can say that nearly all North American grad students of Slavic and some advanced undergrads have used Lunt’s materials and would immediately recognize his medieval Cyrillic handwriting ductus.

The Grammar saw a second, improved and corrected edition in 1959. The third, fourth, and fifth editions added only small changes, unlike the sixth edition of 1974 which raised real text-critical problems. Many sections were reformulated and renumbered, so that when citing the book one should always indicate which edition is meant. Prof. Lunt once complained in the presence of the writer of these lines that the publisher had reset even those sections that were to remain the same, which resulted in a new crop of typographical errors. Also added was a lengthy appendix, Towards a Generative Phonology of Old Church Slavonic, applying the “abstract” synchronic approach to phonology as developed by Halle and Chomsky at that period.

The seventh and last edition of 2001 was typeset all over again; it contains some new formulations, section numbers, and typographical errors. In particular there are multiple errors in the tables of noun (and indefinite adjective) declensions in §4.18, and section §4.70 and following, on the comparison of adjectives, is less accurately formulated than in previous editions. (Both these facts were kindly pointed out to me by Martina Vaníková of Charles University in Prague, to whom I express my gratitude.) Instead of the appendix on generative phonology at the end of the book, there now appears a highly useful new part A Sketch History: from Late Indo-European to Late Common Slavic, which is longer and more thorough than might be suspected from the title. Besides a summary of historical phonology it covers morphology, word formation and sources of the vocabulary. The book has gained in aesthetics as well, since the OCS material is printed in a pleasing old Cyrillic font instead of the previously used graždanka.

Prof. Lunt was also the compiler of Concise Dictionary of Old Russian (11th–17th Centuries), published in 1970 (München: W. Fink Verlag). The title is in English, but the glosses are in modern Russian, largely based on Sreznevskij’s famous 19th-century Materialy dlja slovarja drevnerusskogo jazyka po pis’mennym pamjatnikam. In teaching Old Russian (Old East Slavic), Lunt strictly distinguished OCS elements from East Slavic, so that his students made constant reference to the abovementioned Glossary as well.

One of Lunt’s contributions to general linguistics was co-organizing the Ninth International Congress of Linguists, held at Harvard and MIT (the first Congress to be held in North America). He was the sole editor of the book of Proceedings of the Ninth Congress (The Hague: Mouton 1964).

Prof. Lunt was known for judging both his own work and that of his colleagues and students by severe criteria. His reviews sometimes turned into overt polemics, so that some observers wondered if he was not displaying European rather than North American manners in scholarly discussion. Certain of his students even feared him, though others considered, and still consider, him to have been one of the chief factors in their choosing a Slavic career.

For further information about the last period of Lunt’s life and work, we can recommend the obituary by his Harvard successor Michael Flier. Together with other co-founders of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, Lunt devoted himself to long-term study and translation of the Russian Primary Chronicle (Pověstь vrěmennyxъ lětъ or, in Lunt’s reconstruction, Pověstь vrěmenъ i lětъ). HURI is soon to publish the final authorized version of the reconstructed text and translation by the group.

A partial bibliography of Lunt’s publications appeared in the first part of a collection dedicated to him: Studies in Honor of Horace G. Lunt Part 1 = Folia Slavica 2.1–3 (1978), Part 2 = Folia Slavica 3.1–2 (1979). Columbus (Ohio): Slavica Publishers.

A second Festschrift was Christina Kramer and Brian Cook, eds., Guard the Word Well Bound. Proceedings of the Third North American-Macedonian Conference on Macedonian Studies = Indiana Slavic Studies 10 (1999).

A memorial volume was edited by Michael Flier, David Birnbaum (University of Pittsburgh), and Cynthia Vakareliyska (University of Oregon): Philology Broad and Deep. In Memoriam Horace Gray Lunt. Bloomington: Slavica 2014.

Wayles Browne (Ph.D. University of Zagreb 1983) studied under Lunt as an undergraduate and later under Halle and Chomsky. He is Professor of Linguistics Emeritus at Cornell University.

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