Homage to a Western Indologist

Bh. Krishnamurti

Professor Murray Barnson Emeneau (1904-2005) was the longest living western Indologist of great distinction. In the early hours of August 29, he passed away in his sleep at the age of 101 in his house in Berkeley, California. His life had been a saga of scholarly dedication and prolific writing on a variety of indological themes in general, and Dravidian, in particular. He had several Indian students who have occupied high positions in the Indian academia and made significant contributions to Sanskrit and Indian linguistics, inspired both by his scholarship and by his example. His Indian students had always looked upon him as a Guru of the true Indian Gurukula tradition. The present writer is one of them.

Born on February 28, 1904 in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, Canada, Professor Emeneau received his BA Honours in Classics from Dalhousie University in 1923. He later went to Balliol College at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar to earn a second bachelor’s degree with honours in 1926. He received his PhD from Yale University in 1931. His dissertation on Jambhaladatta’s Vetālapañcavinśati was published by the American Oriental Society in 1934. As a research scholar he studied Classics, Linguistics and Anthropology, with such great scholars and teachers at Yale as Franklin Edgerton, E. H. Sturtevant and Edward Sapir.

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, viz. Toda, Kota, Badaga, Kodagu and Kolami. On a short visit to northwest India (now Pakistan), he collected data on Brahui. He published scores of papers, grammars, and texts of these languages since then. Mention should be made of Kota Texts (vols 1-4, 1944-6), Kolami, A Dravidian Language (1956), Toda Songs (1971), a groundbreaking work in ethnopoetics, Toda Grammar and Texts (1984). He was the Founder-Chair of the Department of Linguistics at the University of California in 1940 and served as Professor of Sanskrit and Linguistics from 1943 to 1971, when he retired and accepted the emeritus status.

Professor Emeneau’s range of scholarship and publications spanned many disciplines and interdisciplinary areas, involving Linguistics, Prehistory, Anthropology, Ethnology, Onomastics, Folklore Studies, with special reference to two major language families of India, Dravidian and Indo-Aryan. With 285 published items including 25 books and 98 reviews, he made a mark on almost every branch of Indology. The impact of his work on world scholarship is considerable. However, there are two major areas where his scholarly contribution has left a lasting imprint. His classic paper, “India as a Linguistic Area”, published in 1955 explored the data and specified the tools to establish that language and culture had fused for centuries on the Indian soil to produce an integrated mosaic of structural convergence of four distinct language families—Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Munda and Tibeto-Burman. With his further contributions (published as a book in 1980 by Stanford University under the title Language and Lingusitic Area: Essays by Murray B. Emeneau), this area has now become a major field of research in language contact and convergence all over the world. He thus provided scholarly substance for the underlying Indian-ness of our apparently divergent cultural and linguistic patterns. Consequently, Souh Asia is now recognized not only as a ‘linguistic area’, but also as a ‘sociolinguistic area’, ‘a cultural area’, and also as ‘a translation area.’ His second monumental contribution is A Dravidian Etymological Dictionary (Oxford 1961, extensively revised 1984), which he coauthored with the late Professor Burrow, another great Indologist, who was Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University. This had been a major life-long work of both the authors, representing cognates collected from twenty-four Dravidian languages, of which their own research and fieldwork represented the primary source of at least ten nonliterary languages. All students of Indian languages and linguistics are eternally indebted to them for this lasting contribution.

Professor Emeneau earned many academic distinctions. He was a member of fourteen learned societies throughout the world. To name a few: He was elected Member of the prestigious American Philosophical Society in 1952, Honorary Member of the National Institute of Humanistic Sciences, Vietnam in 1957, Honorary Member of the Linguistic Society of India in 1964, Honorary Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1969, Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1970, and Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy in 1993. He was President of the Linguistic Society of America in 1949 and of the American Oriental Society in 1964-65. He presided over the VI International Sanskrit Association held in Philadelphia in October 1984. He was awarded honorary doctorate degrees by at least four universities, viz. the University of Chicago (1968), Dalhousie University (1970), University of Hyderabad (1987), V.K. Kameshwarsingh Darbhanga Sanskrit University (1999).

Professor and Mrs Emeneau lived a simple and dedicated life. They had books all over the house, but never had a TV; even in his later life, he did not use a computer. He used to type up all his papers and books including the enormous manuscript of the Dravidian Etymological Dictionary on his portable Olympia typewriter, fitted with special linguistic symbols. They were very hospitable to the students and frequently invited them for dinner. When any visiting Indian scholar telephoned to meet him, he would invariably invite him/her for lunch or dinner. After Mrs. Kitty Emeneau passed away in 1987, Professor Emeneau lived alone in their house for the next eighteen years. The present author had the honour of dedicating his recent book, The Dravidian Languages (Cambridge, 2003) to Professor Emeneau, which he acknowledged with great delight.

With his passing away a glorious era of Indological and Dravidian research has ended. His scholarly output and his personal example will continue to influence and inspire future generations of scholars in India and abroad.

Bh. Krishnamurti, PhD (Pennsylvania), FRSE
(Professor of Lingusitics (Retd.), Osmania University
Former Vice-Chancellor, University of Hyderabad)