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Ernst Pulgram
LSA Minutes

Ernst Pulgram

Ernst Pulgram, Professor Emeritus of Romance and Classical Linguistics, died suddenly on August 17, 2005, while on vacation in Ireland, one month short of his ninetieth birthday. As one colleague in Germany wrote in a tribute, “with him the last of the great Romanists who had to flee from the Nazis and went to the States, is gone.”

Pulgram was born on September 18, 1915, in Vienna, Austria. Upon completing his doctorate in Romance Philology at the University of Vienna in 1938, Pulgram chose to leave his homeland shortly after its annexation by Nazi Germany. He fled to Switzerland, whence he emigrated to the United States in 1939. Invalided from the army after two years of military service, Pulgram entered the doctoral program in Comparative Linguistics at Harvard and earned a doctorate in 1946. He taught for two years at Union College (Schenectady, N.Y.), and in 1948 joined the Faculty of the University of Michigan, where he remained until his retirement in 1986. In 1979 the University awarded Pulgram the title of Hayward Keniston Distinguished Professor of Romance and Classical Linguistics. Over the years he held Visiting Professorships at the Universities of Florence, Cologne, Heidelberg, Regensburg, Vienna, Innsbruck, Munich, and International Christian University (Tokyo).

In 1948, the year of his arrival at the University of Michigan, Pulgram and his colleague, Lawrence B. Kiddle, founded what was to become one of the most flourishing programs in Romance linguistics in the United States. This program granted over sixty doctorates and many M.As, and a number of Pulgram’s doctoral students have gone on to be active scholars in the field of Romance and general linguistics. He was a professional role model and inspiration for his graduate students. In 1950, Pulgram co-founded with Kiddle the Language Laboratory, forerunner of today’s Language Resource Center.

Pulgram’s range of activities as a “practicing linguist” (to quote the title he gave the two-volume collection of his selected essays published in 1986-88) was wide. His scope included proto-Indo-European, Latin, Greek, and the Romance languages (with emphasis on French and Italian). He is the author of five books, several edited volumes and over eighty articles. Pulgram was always an independent thinker, adhering to no one school of linguistics. Colleagues recall his academic integrity and rectitude, and the clarity and forcefulness with which he expressed his views.

Early in his career Pulgram received from the University the Henry Russel Award. He twice held Guggenheim Fellowships and ACLS Fellowships. In 1990, the University of Vienna awarded him an honorary doctorate, a distinction rarely granted by that institution. In 1980 colleagues and former students offered him a homage volume.

Pulgram was a lover of music and art; for over fifty years he supported the University of Michigan Musical Society and went to its concerts. On his annual trips to Europe he searched for and acquired a splendid collection of pre-World War II Austrian art, especially the work of Klimt, Schiele, and Kokoschka. This collection has been donated to the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

Pulgram is survived by his wife, Frances McSparran, his brother William and sister-in-law Lucia, a niece and three nephews, and their children.

Steven N. Dworkin
Professor of Romance Linguistics and Linguistics