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January 2012 Archives

Little Orphan English

Dictionarypage.jpg"When I die," says Anatoly Liberman, "I would like to have a picture of a heifer inscribed upon my tombstone."

A somewhat peculiar utterance for anyone, but an even stranger one for someone who isn't a farmer, rancher, veterinarian, or in some other way associated with agrarian or bovine-related pursuits.

Liberman, who will be teaching the Saturday morning seminar The Future of English, is, in fact, a linguist. More specifically (and correctly), he is a philologist--one who studies language in written historical sources; a pursuit that combines literary studies, history, and linguistics. He is also a professor of German, Scandinavian, and Dutch at the University of Minnesota (where he has worked since he emigrated from his native Russia in 1975). And, one day, almost 25 years ago, because of a cow (albeit indirectly), he launched himself headfirst into the massive task of creating an etymological dictionary for the English language, and a bibliography to accompany it.