Friday, December 12, 2014

December 12: The Day that Killed Three Linguists

Today, December 12, marks the date that three different linguists died (albeit in separate years). John Pell, Bedřich Hrozný, and Yechezkel Kutscher all died on this date in 1685, 1952, and 1971 respectively. Today we're paying homage to each of these linguists and taking a brief look back at their lives and work.

New Court, Trinity College, Cambridge
John Pell

The first of our three linguists is John Pell, who was born on March 1, 1611. While Pell is certainly more famous for his work as a mathematician, he started his academic career as a linguist at Trinity College, Cambridge, at just 13 years old. Pell put forward a proposal for a universal language in 1638.

His most famous contribution to mathematics was arguably his namesake equation, "Pell's Equation". He also taught the mathematician Johann Rahn, who is said to have created the obelus or ÷, better known as the division symbol. Some also credit Pell with its creation.

Bedřich Hrozný

The second of our three linguists to die on this day was Bedřich Hrozný, who died in 1952. Hrozný was born on May 6, 1879 in the Austro-Hungarian town of Lysá nad Labem, which is in the modern-day Czech Republic. Hrozný completed his education in Vienna and became most famous for his study of eastern societies and languages, known as Oriental studies.

One of his most fascinating works was with the cuneiform writing system used in a number of the languages he studied, including Akkadian, Sumerian, and Old Persian. He also deciphered the Hittite language, spoken by the Hittites, whose empire occupied what is now Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon over 3,000 years ago.

The Dead Sea Scrolls in the Qumran Caves
Yechezkel Kutscher

The last of our three linguists is Yechezkel Kutscher. Kutscher was born in Slovakia on June 1, 1909, and spent his life studying Hebrew. His academic studies took place in his hometown of Topoľčany and in Frankfurt.

He then moved to Mandatory Palestine, where he continued his studies in a couple of religious academic institutions before passing on his knowledge as a teacher in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Kutscher studied Hebrew linguistics in Jerusalem before lecturing at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. As an academic he conducted research into the ancient Mishnaic Hebrew script, which included looking at the Dead Sea Scrolls.