Murray Barnson Emeneau

Murray Barnson Emeneau (February 28, 1904 – August 29, 2005) was an emeritus professor and founder of the Department of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Emeneau was born in Lunenburg, a fishing town on the east coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. Having distinguished himself in classical languages in high school, he obtained a four-year scholarship to Dalhousie University in Halifax to further his classical studies. On obtaining his B.A. degree from Dalhousie, Emeneau was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Balliol College at Oxford University. From Oxford he arrived at Yale University in 1926, where he took a teaching appointment in Latin. While at Yale, Emeneau began Sanskrit and Indo-European studies with the Sanskritist Franklin Edgerton and Indo-Europeanist Edgar Sturtevant. In 1931 Emeneau was awarded his Ph.D. with a dissertation on the Vetālapañcaviṃśatī.

Given the dire employment situation in the early 1930s, Emeneau stayed on at Yale after completing his dissertation, taking courses in the “new linguistics” being taught by Edward Sapir. Emeneau wrote:

I was exposed to methods of fieldwork on non-literary languages, including intensive phonetic practice and analysis of material, but especially to Sapir’s approach to anthropological linguistics, in which language is only part of the total culture, but a most important part, since in it the community expresses in its own way, ‘verbifies’ its culture.
—1980, 352

It was Sapir who suggested that Emeneau take up a study of the Toda language of the Nilgiri hills in South India with an aim toward a comparative study of the Dravidian Languages. Emeneau may have been the last student of Sapir.