Pieter Muysken#

Obituary, Neerlandistiek (in English)
Obituary, Neerlandistiek (in Spanish)
Obituary, Neerlandistiek (in Portuguese)
Obituary, Neerlandistiek (in Dutch)

Short laudatio by Bernard Comrie#

Pieter Muysken is an internationally leading scholar in three areas of contemporary linguistics: languages of South America; formal theory of grammar; language contact. There is always cross-fertilization across the boundaries between these areas in his work.

The description and analysis of languages of South America is chronologically Professor Muysken’s first field of study, with important early original documentation of varieties of Quechua. More recently, he has led a Spinoza project on the documentation of hitherto undescribed or little described languages of Bolivia, with the result that a number of glaring lacunae in our knowledge of languages of this area have now been filled. (In this project Professor Muysken has also been particularly active in the training of younger scholars in linguistic field work, description, and analysis.) A fitting tribute to Professor Muysken’s work in this area is the co-authored monograph The Languages ofthe Andes (Cambridge University Press, 2004), which summarizes the achievements of the last few decades of research, much of it Professor Muysken’s own, and has already become the classic work on the languages of Highland South America.

Professor Muysken has always had a keen eye for the relevance of his descriptive work to current issues in linguistic theory, including in the formal theory of grammar. For instance, on the basis of his work on Quechua in the late l970s and early 1980s he formulated clearly the Mirror Principle, whereby the order of prefixes and suffixes counting from the root of a word reflects the order of the derivational processes involved and the semantic scope ofthe different affixes. This has been one of the most fruitful ideas in morphological theory, followed up for instance both in general theoretical work such as that by Mark Baker (McGill University) and in the analysis of languages very different from those originally considered by Professor Muysken, such as the work of Lany Hyman (University of Califomia Berkeley) on affix ordering in Bantu languages.

But pride of place must surely go to Professor Muysken’s work on language contact, where he is unequivocally one of the top half dozen scholars in the world in a field that is both broad and growing. Two ideas have been particularly fruitful: mixed languages and relexification. In earlier work, the concept of "mixed languages" was typically used as an escape hatch for any and every problem in historical linguistics, and for this reason was eschewed by leading practitioners. In work such as his contributions to the 1994 co-edited book Mixed Languages and Language Intertwining, Professor Muysken succeeded in showing that the concept of "mixed language" can be given a rigorous definition that makes claims about language mixing amenable to empirical testing and that moreover provides an essential concept in the study of more radical instances of language contact. It should be noted that Professor Muysken was led to this conclusion in part through his work on the documentation of languages of South America, in particular the mixed (Quechua-Spanish) Media Lengua of Ecuador. Professor Muysken is also responsible for our current understanding of the concept of “relexification", as introduced in his 198l article “Halfway between Quechua and Spanish: the case for relexification” in particular, Professor Muysken succeeds in defining and empirically justifying a process whereby "borrowing" involves copying the form of a foreign lexical item onto the content of a lexical item in the borrower’s native language. This concept has been particularly fruitful in the area of creole languages, as can be seen not only in Professor Muysken’s own work on creolization but also in its adoption by other scholars, for instance in Claire Lefebvre’s Creole Genesis andthe Acquisition of Grammar (Cambridge University Press, 1998). Throughout his work, Professor Muysken has emphasized the need to understand not only the social but also the psychological processes that underlie language contact.

In sum, Professor Muysken is an internationally recognized scholar who has made key contributions in a number of areas of contemporary linguistics, contributions that have not only broadened and deepened our knowledge of Language and languages but also led to the formulation of fruitful hypotheses that have driven subsequent research agendas.

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