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For the love of language

Prof. B. Krishnamurty wins the Fellowship of the Royal Scottish Society of Edinburgh


WHILE MOST human beings are fascinated by languages, lesser numbers have devoted close attention to their scientific study. How do languages originate, grow and die? Do languages, like men have common ancestry? Could linguistic conflicts be avoided if we knew the affinity among languages? The questions are endless. Given the importance of such debates, especially in a multilingual country like ours, it is significant that one of the most respected linguists of our country

Prof. Bhadiraju Krishnamurty was recently elected Fellow of the prestigious Royal Society of Edinburgh (FRSE). Established in the year 1783 and recognised as Scotland's National Academy of Science and Letters, the society recognises excellence in sciences, arts, humanities, social sciences, industry and commerce.

Krishnamurty's honour could not have been more singular. R.S.E fellows include legendary figures such as Charles Darwin, Adam Smith, Walter Scott, John Baird, and William Wordsworth. More importantly, however, in honouring Krishnamurty, the Scottish society has recognised the significance of language studies in India and the growing stature of Indian linguistics at the international level.

Born in Ongole in a modest family (his father was a typist), he made a conscious choice to study Telugu language and literature against the more coveted subjects sought after then like the sciences or medicine, English or Commerce. His diligence and dedication to the subject paid off. Joining as a lecturer in Andhra University in 1949, he got his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1957 when he was barely 27 years old. By 1962, at the age of 34, he had become the youngest Professor of Osmania University, Hyderabad. By then he had published two books and four original research papers in Dravidian linguistics. Over five decades, he has published 25 books and more than 100 research papers in English and Telugu, covering a whole gamut of linguistic studies: Telugu grammar, didectology, lexicography, literacy and sociolinguistics and Dravidian studies. Elected as the only honorary member of the Linguistic Society of America in 1985 for life , his pioneering work in Dravidian linguistics and his state of art research have placed him in the forefront of world-class experts on the subject.

. His publication of Telugu Verbal Bases (1961) logically paved the way for research that culminated in Comparative Dravidian Linguistics (2001). Speaking of Krishnamurty's work, Prof. E.A. Asher, the distinguished linguist with the University of Edinburgh, says: "It is impossible to do serious work in Prof. Krishnamurty's chosen field without consulting the book and articles he has written. Almost everything he has published, is original, insightful and authoritative."

Krishnamurty has worked extensively in the field of socio-linguistics and researched into the grammar of tribal languages. The winner of several coveted awards like the Fulbright, Rockefeller, Watumull and others, he has also been a member of the internationally acclaimed Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, 2000-2001.He has also been part of the Centre for Advanced Studies in the Behavioural Sciences at Stanford University. He has edited a Modern History of the Telugu Language in Telugu, which has gone to five reprints.

Krishnamurty lives with his wife at his modest house at Tarnaka with books for company. At 75 he has learnt typing, he is happy to declare. He is equally proud to show off his computer. He is a champion of computer software in the Indian languages; "We could break the vicious link between English as the medium of instruction and employment preference by using regional language software," he remarks firmly. Current projects include a monograph of Tikkanna, his favorite poet, and an autobiography. Prof. Krishnamurty is no ivory tower academic researcher. He has shouldered major administrative responsibilities too, as the Principal, College of Arts and Commerce, Osmania University, Dean, Faculty of Arts, O.U and the Vice Chancellor University of Hyderabad, 1993-99. Krishnamurty is a passionate believer in Indian languages and is worried about the continued hegemony of English. For some people education can never be a mere stage in life!

SACHIDANANDA MOHANTY

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