Alexander Vovin - Biography#


Alexander Vovin was born in the Soviet Union of Russian-Jewish parents and received his academic education in the then Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) State University and the Oriental Institute of the Soviet (now Russian) Academy of Sciences in the fields of Korean and Japanese linguistics. He was orginally trained as a specialist in old (mediaeval) Korean and Japanese textual sources, but he also became interested in comparative linguistics. In 1990 he moved to the United States, where he held positions in several universities, becoming ultimately a full professor of Japanese language at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2003. When working in the US, he also stayed for longer periods as a visiting professor in Japan and Germany. He moved to France in 2013 and is since January 1, 2014 permanently appointed as a full professor (directeur d'études) at the Center of Oriental Languages (CRLAO) of the elite University of Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris.

Vovin was originally an adherent of the so-called Altaic Hypothesis, which is based on the assumption of a genetic connection between the so-called Altaic languages (Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, Koreanic, Japonic). However, becoming convinced of the erroneousness of this hypotheis, he changed his opinion and is now one of the most ardent opponents of the Altaic Hypothesis. In this connection, he has particularly worked on the comparative analysis of Korean(ic) and Japanese-Ryukyuan (Japonic). In his monograph on the question concerning the relationship between Korean and Japanese he demonstrates the problems underlying the Altaic Hypothesis.

Vovin has also worked on Ainu and Ghilyak (Nivkh), two Palaeo-Asiatic languages of the Japanese Islands and Sakhalin. His reconstruction of Proto-Ainu is a fundamental pioneering work on the subject.

In his academic papers, Vovin has additionally dealt with many other issues pertaining to the linguistic history and prehistory of East, North and Central (Eur)Asia.

Altogether, Vovin is an exceptionally versatile and still relatively young scholar who, considering his age, has produced a large amount of important publications, often with controversial but stimulating opinions. Although he still holds his US citizenship, he is now fully Europeanized and considers Paris as his base.
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