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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.

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  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….

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

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

    Like

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