- Comparative Linguistics
I am a linguist by training, a classicist by profession, and a comparative philologist at heart. The recipient of degrees in linguistics from Yale (B.A. 1991, summa cum laude and with Exceptional Distinction in the major), Oxford (M.Phil. 1993; British Marshall Scholar), and Harvard (Ph.D. 1998), I had the good fortune to be able to reinvent myself as a classicist at Princeton. Now a Professor, I started my career here in the spring of 1998, when I was hired, in the first place as a one-semester Lecturer, to teach a class on the history of English while finishing a dissertation with the catchy title Topics in Indo-European Personal Pronouns.
Widely published in the languages, literatures, and cultures of the ancient world, from India to Ireland via Greece, Rome, and the Near East, I am more or less equally interested in Greek and Latin. While there are recurrent themes in my work — for example, the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European, poetics, and etymology, which I view as part of the history of ideas — I prefer in both my research and my teaching to prowl around topics rather than pursue one single line of inquiry: Hesiodic belly-prophecy and Horatian self-fashioning; Basque badgers and Roman testicles; the phonology of Tocharian monosyllables and the morphological peculiarities of Gothic pronouns; hieroglyphic Egyptian puns and modern English slang; etc. Recent articles have reinterpreted the opening of Vergil’s Georgics, refined a phonological rule in Hittite, proposed a novel explanation for the form of the pluperfect in Ancient Greek, and taken a fragmentary verse of Archilochus about blind eels as a launching point for insights into Anatolian, Celtic, and Greek mythology; a paper in press makes a stab at coming to terms with the place of the curious “anagram notebooks” in the life and thought of Ferdinand de Saussure.
One of my current preoccupations is wordplay, whose theory and practice across time and space I am investigating thanks to a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, a Loeb Classical Library Foundation Fellowship, and a Visiting Fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford. Among the other institutions to which I am deeply grateful for awards over the years are the American Council of Learned Societies, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Study, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Science Foundation. I will be a Directeur d’études invité at the École pratique des Hautes Études in Paris in May 2011.
At Princeton, I am a member (and former Director) of the Program in Linguistics and a member of the Executive Committee of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication. I am also the Founding Director of the Behrman Undergraduate Society of Fellows, the President of the campus chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, a Trustee and member of the Editorial Board of the Princeton University Press, a member of the Council of the Friends of the Princeton University Library, a committed Faculty Adviser at Forbes College (where I was for a time Senior Fellow), and a Faculty Columnist for the Daily Princetonian.
Besides “Ancient Greek: An Intensive Introduction” (CLG 103), which is reputed to be “harder than orgo,” classes that I regularly teach include “Origins and Nature of English Vocabulary” (CLA / ENG 208); “Introduction to Historical and Comparative Linguistics” (LIN / CLA 210); the freshman seminars “Writing Systems of the World,” “Ancient Egypt and its Hieroglyphs,” and “Wordplay: A Wry Plod from Babel to Scrabble”; and graduate seminars on such topics as Proto-Indo-European, the Iliad, Linear B and the Mycenaean world, Greek Dialects, and the historical and comparative grammar of Latin. I am especially honored to have won, at Princeton, both the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching (2003) and the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award (2008). I warmly welcome inquiries from students at all levels who find appealing anything that I have written here.