Alexander Vovin

Alexander Vovin (1961–2022)#

Alexander ”Sasha” Vovin, born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) on January 27th 1961, died prematurely on April 8th 2022. He got his MA in structural and applied linguistics at Saint Petersburg State University in 1983 and his PhD in Japanese historical linguistics and premodern Japanese literature at the same university in 1987.

After three years as a post-doc researcher at Saint Petersburg he moved to the United States, where he held positions as assistant professor at the universities of Michigan (1990 - 1994) and Miami (1994 - 1995). At the university of Hawaii he was first assistant and then associate professor (1995 - 2003) and finally full professor (2003 - 2014). In 2014 he accepted the position as Director of studies at the Centre de recherches linguistiques sur l’Asie orientale in Paris, which is a unit of the École des hautes études en sciences sociales: this was the position he held till is untimely death.

Vovin’s scholarly work focused on Japanese historical linguistics and on Japanese philology of the Nara period (710 - 792) and to some extent of the Heian period (792 - 1192). At the time of his death, he was working on an anthology of classical Japonese poetry, which he was translating - he did not finish this important work, but the first volumes of it are published by Brill. Another project left unfinished was an etymological dictionary of Japanese.

He was a remarkable scholar who knew and studied a considerable amount of languages: apart from his work on Japanese, he also studied the Ainu language in northern Japan as well as languages of northern and central Asia (Tungusic, Mongolic and Turcic languages), the Kra-Dai languages of South east Asia and texts in Old and Middle Korean. He identified, for example, the language of two inscriptions from the 7th and 6th centuries as an early form of Mongolian – thus increasing the known history of this language by about 7 centuries.

He was elected a member of the Academia Europaea and of the section of “Classics and Oriental studies” in 2015 and served as a member of the section Committee for several years.

We in the section committee very much miss this remarkable colleague.

April 2022

Gerd V. M. Haverling
Gianfranco Agosti
Alessandro Bausi
Barbara E. Borg
Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit
Eun-Jeung Lee
Alexander Lubotsky

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