Linguistics Professor honoured in India

Aditi Lahiri, Professor of Linguistics at Oxford, has been honoured with a prestigious award for her ‘significant contribution’ in the field of Philology, Linguistics, and Literature.

Professor Lahiri is the first Chair of the newly formed Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics at Oxford, which was launched on 1 August 2008.

She went to Calcutta on May 4 to receive the Professor Sukumar Sen Memorial Gold Medal from the Governor of West Bengal, at the Annual General Meeting of the Asiatic Society. She is the 15th recipient of the award, the first from Oxford, and the first woman to receive the medal, which is named after Professor Sukumar Sen, the former Khaira Professor of Linguistics, and a famous Philologist.

Previous winners of the medal include internationally renowned philologists and linguists Sir Harold Bailey, Professor of Sanskrit, Cambridge University and Professor Manfred Mayrhofer, Professor of Indo-Germanic Philology, Vienna.

Professor Lahiri said: ‘I am delighted to be receiving this medal. The award is a testament to the leading role that Oxford has historically played in the study of Indo-European linguistics and Comparative Philology. The new faculty continues this tradition while also extending its reach to the cutting edge of interdisciplinary linguistics research at the intersections of cognitive science and experimental psychology.’

The Asiatic Society was founded in Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1784 by Sir William Jones, a British judge in India and a student of Oriental languages and literature. Some of his papers are currently housed in the Bodleian. It is of special significance to linguists as the birthplace of historical linguistics and philology, following Sir William’s famous lecture in 1786 entitled The Third Anniversary Discourse, on the Hindus.

This speech showed that certain languages spoken from India to Europe were related by virtue of having a common ancestor, just as Italian and French had evolved from Latin, and English, German, and Scandinavian languages from an older Germanic tongue. This laid the foundations for the modern study of Comparative Philology and Indo-European languages, and led eventually to the founding of the modern field of linguistics.

Head of Humanities at Oxford, Professor Sally Shuttleworth, said: ‘Professor Lahiri is a very distinguished scholar and I am delighted that her work is being honoured in this way. Oxford scholars have helped to frame the development of the discipline of linguistics over the past two centuries so it is particularly fitting that this award should be conferred at the point when the new Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics has been formed.’

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