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Edward E. Salisbury Professor of Sanskrit and Comparative Philology
Stanley Insler, B.A. Columbia College, Ph.D. Yale University, faculty member at Yale since 1963. You are the preeminent Sanskritist of your generation, the area of Historical Linguistics that has provided much of the field’s empirical and theoretical foundations. You have written extensively about the literatures and languages of ancient India and Iran, Sanskrit classical and epic poetry, and Pali and Prakrit texts. Your interests are wide ranging, from religious history and textual interpretation, to rhythmic patterns and effects, to foundational issues of semantics, morphology, and phonology. And like your Indo-Europeanist intellectual forebears, your contributions have been enshrined in a law that bears your name, “Insler’s Law”, recognizing your insight into the the mutual influence of phonological and morphological change in Pali, the oldest language of the Buddhist Canon. Throughout your career, you have returned to two well-studied, but notoriously difficult collections: the Rigveda and the Gathas of Zarathustra. Through the clarity and complexity of your thinking, you have done much to allow these dense texts to reveal their intricate meanings, producing a translation of the Gathas that is widely regarded as the modern standard. In addition to your writing, the community of scholars of the languages and literatures of the Orient has benefited enormously from your intellectual leadership and financial stewardship of the American Oriental Society, the oldest learned society in the U.S. devoted to a particular field of scholarship, where, as officer and treasurer, it has been remarked that you “gracefully led the AOS into the 19th century.”
For those of us lucky to have crossed paths with you at Yale, your intellectual contributions and impact have been a continuing treasure. In the classroom, your erudition and enthusiasm have inspired and opened up intellectual vistas to innumerable undergraduates and PhD students, many of whom have gone on to become scholars of distinction in their own right. Yet, as your colleagues noted in an issue of the Journal of the AOS published in your honor, your classes taught not only about the details of formal philology, but also “English furniture, Weimar Germany, and aspic; about Barlach, Brideshead Revisited, and Burgundies; about the dangers of maraschino cherries and the art of cocktail piano; about William Dwight Whitney, scholar and turkey-hunter; and much else besides.” The entire Yale community, in Jonathan Edwards Fellowship and beyond, is richer for your instruction in the art of a life worth living.
You have served the university with distinction on numerous committees, and added to your list of lasting impacts on Yale the current course numbering system, which you devised while on the Yale College Course of Study Committee. And in a very real sense, the history of the Linguistics Department at Yale is your intellectual biography: departmental status was officially granted while you were writing your dissertation, and you have been a member of the faculty since you finished your degree. You have served as a worthy heir to the great tradition of William Dwight Whitney to make Yale a great center of Indo-European Studies for decades. As department chair in the 1980s, you artfully navigated Yale Linguistics through the Stürm und Drang of its difficult adolescent years, and as DGS, you coaxed and cajoled generations of PhD students to completion of their degrees with a stern hand and an outstretched arm. Passionate denizen of Sterling Memorial Library, scholar who defends the old humanistic virtues without stuffiness, as you retire your Yale colleagues raise a glass and toast you: shubhaaste panthaanah santu.