Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

The Life of a Linguist

This is the man who deciphered the Mayan script. His name is Yuri Knorozov. He didn’t have a place to live while he worked on this immense project, so he stayed in a small closet at a museum.

He was going to present his research at the defense of his Master’s thesis. There was every chance that he’d go straight to a concentration camp from the defense because Soviet orthodoxy held that there had been no pre-Columbian civilizations in the Americas. Knorozov’s research demonstrated that not only was the Mayan civilization real, it was also very sophisticated. 

It took Knorozov under 5 minutes to deliver his findings. Instead of an MA, the committee unanimously awarded him a PhD. It was 1955, two years after Stalin’s death, and it was no longer as dangerous to challenge opinions on pre-Columbian times. 

Knorozov’s life-long dream was to visit Mexico, but obviously he didn’t stand a chance of traveling anywhere while the USSR existed. He finally got a chance to see Mexico in 1990. 

He died as he lived, abandoned and alone. 


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5 thoughts on “The Life of a Linguist

  1. Dreidel on said:

    “He died as he lived, abandoned and alone.”

    Well, not entirely alone. Siamese cats are affectionate pets.


  2. “He died as he lived, abandoned and alone”

    The only thing that would be more archetypical of linguists would be for him to end up in a place where all his attempts to communicate were met with befuddlement and hostility on both sides….


  3. That’s one scary-looking linguist.
    But I can second that Siamese cats are wonderful pets, had several when I was growing up.


  4. It’s tragic how a lot of the best people are never supported.


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