North American Scholar


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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1897-06-30
  • Born City: Rochdale, Lancashire
  • Born State/Country: England
  • Parents: Walter, an iron-molder, & Elizabeth Hollows W.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1964-04-25
  • Death City: Winchester
  • Death State/Country: MA
  • Married: G. Verona Friederich Taylor, 24 Oct. 1930.
  • Education:

    B.A. U. Manchester, 1916; M.A., 1921; B.A. Cambridge (Emmanuel Coll.), 1921; M.A., 1926; A.M. (hon.) Harvard, 1942; Litt.D. Dublin, 1959.

  • Professional Experience:

    Lctr. class. University Coll. North Wales, 1921-5; prof. Lat. Egyptian U. (Cairo), 1925-6; prof. & chair dept. comp. philol. Harvard, 1926-51; dept. linguistics, 1951-63; Sather prof., 1955; spl. lctr. comp. philol. U. Chicago, 1930; vis. prof., 1948; Collitz prof. Indo-European Linguistic Inst., 1949; Lowell Inst. lctr., 1957; pres. 9th Int. Cong. Linguists, 1961; fell. AAAS, 1929-36; pres. Ling. Soc. Am., 1951; ed. HSCP 1932-4, 1941-8; adviser on linguistics, Encyclopaedia Britannica.

  • Publications:

    Scholia in Isidori Etymologias Vallicelliana (Paris, 1926); Liber Glossarum (Paris, 1926); "The Leptonic Inscriptions and the Ligurian Dialect," HSCP 38 (1927) 1-20; "On a New Fragment of Dorian Farce," HSCP 39 (1928) 1-6; "The Osi of Tacitus-Germanic or Illyrian?", HSCP 42 (1931) 139-55; "The Calendar in Ancient Italy outside Rome," HSCP 42 (1931) 157-79; Prae-Italic Dialects of Italy, with R. S. Conway & S. E. Johnson (Cambridge & London, 1933); "Quemadmodum Pollio reprehendit in Livio Patavinitatem?," HSCP 44 (1933) 95-130; "New Keltic Inscriptions of Gaul," HSCP 44 (1933) 227-31; "A New Raetic Inscription of the Sondrio Group," HSCP 47 (1936) 205-7; The Foundations of Roman Italy (London, 1937; repr. New York, 1971); "Tusca origo Raetis," HSCP 48 (1937) 181-202; "The Development of Indo-European Labiovelars," Acta Jutlandica 9 (1937) 45-56; "A New Umbrian Inscription of Assisi," HSCP 50 (1939) 89-93; "The Neural Basis of Language and the Problem of the 'Root'," HSCP 52 (1941) 99-123; "Root and Base in Indo-European," HSCP 54 (1943) 1-23; "Up from Gilgal: A Rejoinder," CP 39 (1944) 218-22; "KeXrud, being Prolegomena to a Study of the Dialects of Ancient Gaul," HSCP 55 (1944) 1-85; " 'Alpes populique Inalpini' (Pliny N.H. 3.47)," HSCP 60 (1951) 175-85; P. Guiraud, Bibliographie critique de la statistique Unguistique, rev. & completed by D. Houchin, J. Puhvel, & C. W. Wat-kins under the direction of Whatmough (Utrecht, 1954); Poetic, Scientific, and Other Forms of Discourse: A New Approach to Greek and Latin in Literature, Sather Lectures 29 (Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1956); Language: A Modern Synthesis (New York, 1957); "Degrees of Knowing," HSCP 63 (1958) 255-63; Trends in European and American Linguistics 1930-1960, ed. with C. Mohrmann & A. Sommerfelt (Utrecht, 1961); Grammar of Dialects of Ancient Gaul (Ann Arbor, 1963); Dialects of Ancient Gaul: Prolegomena and Records of the Dialects (Cambridge, 1970). Festschrift: Studies Presented to J. Whatmough, ed. E. Pulgram (The Hague, 1957), with bibliography.

  • Notes:

    Joshua Whatmough was an active and productive scholar whose bibliography contains over 600 items. His interests always included the dialects of ancient Italy and Gaul, and he has left lasting monuments on those subjects. Later in life he became fascinated with language in general, and specifically with statistical linguistics, inspired in part by the work of George Kingsley Zipf. He produced a number of general works on language, and developed the theory of "selective variation" whereby language both changes and is able to remain comprehensible to its speakers. In his profession he was eminently noticed and successful, achieving distinguished lectureships and the presidency of important organizations: perhaps the one that pleased him most was that of the 9th International Congress of Linguists in 1961. Numerous of his students—including Murray Fowler, Eric Hamp, Jaan Puhvel, Ernst Pulgram, Calvert Watkins—have been inspired by his work and gone on to distinguished careers. He was honored by a Festschrift in 1957. Whatmough was passed over for the chair of comparative philology at Cambridge, a post which he richly deserved. He left England and came to the United States, where he had great success, particularly with historical and comparative linguistics. His later work on language and general linguistics will soon be forgotten, though his enthusiasm for statistical methods, currently out of fashion, may well prove prescient one day. His teaching at Harvard was vatic and inspirational rather than informative, and he puzzled his classical students more than he taught them. He had early discovered that most such students, though required to take courses in comparative grammar, are incapable of learning linguistics. He therefore gave up the attempt, talking instead on any number of topics, some linguistic, others not. He would introduce the Indo-European lost laryngeal consonants to students who could barely comprehend changes of sounds with which they were familiar: he was no doubt intrigued by the symmetry and quasi-mathematical neatness he saw in the larygneal theory. For the interested student he was most generous and helpful, and aided such students in their careers. He was very good company in social settings.Whatmough was short of stature but dapper in appearance, always sporting a boutonniere. A man of decided opinions vigorously expressed, he was well known in the Cambridge community, not always with affection. Indeed he did not seek affection or even approval, and maintained a formal and somewhat autocratic relation with colleagues and subordinates. Though himself passionately interested in language, he never informed his students of the presence of Roman Jakobson on the Harvard faculty, thus replicating Paul Kretschmer's unwillingness in Vienna to recommend Trubetzkoy to his students. Because of his interests in statistical and mathematical linguistics, he may well not have thought of Jakobson as a linguist. He never shunned controversy, and maintained a long-standing feud with Edgar Sturtevant of Yale. Whatmough was always a controversial figure, and his life had an interest of its own, independent of his scholarly work. It would be perhaps easier to write a novel about him than a biography. He was always and everywhere himself, never deviating or compromising in what he held to be true or right. As a result, opinions of him will diverge greatly. He remains a major influence on the lives of his students because of the rigor and energy of his thinking, though few will share many of his beliefs. He was a force one cannot ignore.

  • Sources:

    E. P. Hamp, Language 42 (1966) 620-31; "Language in Evolution," Newsweek (30 July 1951) 62; NYTimes (23 June 1963) 88; (28 Aug. 1964) 37; Time (12 July 1963) 81; (8 May 1964) 92; WhAm 4:1000-1.

  • Author: William F. Wyatt, Jr.