Tag Archives: Obituary

Obituary: Albina H. Girfanova, 1957–2018

Гирфанова, Альбина Хакимовна, Albina Hakimovna Girfanova (born in Weimar, GDR, on February 1st, 1957, died on February 2nd, 2018), scholar of Albanian, Balkan and Manju-Tungus studies, teacher at the philological faculty of St. Petersburg State University.

Being a true polyglot and polyhistor, Albina H. Girfanova had one central subject during her academic life to which she devoted her energy: the Tungusic peoples and languages, among which she primarily worked on all aspects of the Udege and Oroch languages.

Before introducing her research, a few words on the general subject are necessary. The Tungusic languages form a language family spoken in Siberia and Northeast Asia, including Northeast China. Though the Tungusic languages are one of the world’s primary language families, the whole language family, comprising 12 languages, is endangered as there are only 75,000 native speakers alive, and some languages of the Tungusic language family count their native speakers not by 1000s, but rather by 100s even though there may be many more persons of the given ethnicity. Historically speaking, this appears like a huge misfortune as one of the Tungusic languages, namely Manju, was the official language of the Manju rulers of the Qing Dynasty ruling China from 1644 to 1911. The history of the Manju Qing Empire brought forth a treasure trove of Manju documents, but the usage of the Manju language in daily life started to decline with the Jiaqing emperor. Today, even though there are still around 10 million Manju, they are virtually totally assimilated, and thus the number of native Manju speakers (and Sibe, for the same reason) is in the low three-digit range.

While the Manju were successful in obtaining the highest possible social status in Northeast Asia over nearly three centuries which greatly facilitated the usage of their language and the dissemination and preservation of written monuments in Manju, they must be seen as the exception rather than the norm. The other Tungusic peoples were by far not so fortunate in preserving, using and developing their social status or their languages. The Udege and Oroch, two of the Tungusic peoples living in Northeast Russia, settle in the Primorsky Krai and Khabarovsk Krai regions. The Udege count approximately 1,500 members while the Oroch who still had close to 700 members at the turn of the millenium now have less than 600. The number of native speakers is even smaller.

These extremely small and still rapidly declining numbers are the results of several historical and social developments; during the early phase of the Soviet Union, Stalin had implemented a set of unification and ‘amalgamation’ (A. Girfanova) policies with the political goal of reducing the number of nationalities (indicating one’s nationality in the passport was mandatory in the Soviet era; this practice was only abolished after Perestroika) or ethnic groups. Local xenophobia was another factor as the Tungusic nationalities were associated with the Manju (and, by implication, Chinese) settlements during the 19th century. Even though Perestroika offered the hope to re-establish an ethnic identity, the economic turmoil of the 1990s made it very difficult for the Udege and Oroch to promote their culture and language as public schools did not offer these languages. Even though textbooks and grammars were compiled, teaching was and is often done by volunteers without formal training, or without properly developed educational programmes, and without sufficient public funding. Thus, for the members of these communities, proper education in the mother tongue can be an expensive affair with uncertain outcome.

Even though she started her work in the field with a philological contribution (her dissertation Индикативные формы глагола в удэгейском языке [Indicative Verb Forms in Udege] Leningrad, 1988), Albina Girfanova did not limit herself to philology. She found it equally important to understand the history of the field, notably the contributions of early explorers, linguists and preservationists. Together with Nikolay L. Sukhachev, she wrote about Vladimir Klavdiyevich Arsenyev (1872–1930), an early explorer of Russia’s Far East who studied the Oroch and Udege.

Albina Girfanova reached beyond the boundaries of her primary discipline as she also studied ethnological and sociological aspects of the Udege (“The Udeghe Marriage Rite”, 2011, is her contribution to the 54th Annual Meeting of the PIAC in Bloomington, Indiana). Yet, Albina Girfanova was much more than a researcher; she was an active contributor to enable and facilitate the survival of the Udege and Oroch languages. She published educational dictionaries for Udege and Oroch and compiled Udege language Грамматические таблицы (“Grammatical Tables”) for use in high school, distributed by the Khabarovsk Committee of Education. On the academical side, she occupied herself with the sociolinguistical situation of the Manju-Tungus languages in Russia (her contribution to the 50th Annual Meeting of the PIAC in Kazan). Perhaps most important to the members of the Udege community, her insight into the precarious relationship between history, society, economy, politics and language status (see her highly enlightening article “The Taz Ethnic Group: Its Past and Future”. In: Tiina Hyytiäinen, Lotta Jalava, Janne Saarikivi and Erika Sandman (eds.): Ex Oriente Lumina. Historiae Variae Multiethnicae. Festskrift tillägnad Juha Janhunen på hans 61. födelsedag 12.2.2013, Helsinki 2013) made her an outspoken advocate with a sharp mind (and tongue), fighting for the preservation of the Udege people and language in a non-museal fashion (she was also highly critical of certain common attitudes in her own field). Her critical understanding of the intentions and outcomes of Russia’s minority policies allowed her to come forward with substantial suggestions for improvements acknowledged by politicians. In autumn 2017 she was invited by the Department of Interior Politics of Primorsky Krai as moderator for a course on the revival of the Udege language in the framework of a larger nationality policy programme from 2018 to 2020. Pavel Yasevich, Director of the Department, lauds her as the foremost authority on Udege and Oroch languages in Russia.

One might assume that there cannot be much time and energy left for completely different academical endeavours, but Albina Girfanova was also versed in Turkish, Albanian and Balkan studies. Her contributions to this field may be overshadowed by her more prominent work in the Manju-Tungusic realm, but the project of a dictionary of Turkic terminology in the languages of Southeast Europe (О проекте словаря «Тюркизмы в языках юго-восточной Европы» (опыт сводного описания историко-лексикографических и этимологических данных), „Revue des études sud-est européennes”, T. XLV (1–4), 2007, S. 461–490) should at least be mentioned here.

In recent years, she was an active and regular contributor to the PIAC, participating in the annual meetings 2006 in Berlin, 2007 in Kazan, 2008 in Bucarest, 2009 in Huhhot, 2010 in St. Petersburg, 2011 in Bloomington, 2012 in Cluj-Napoca, 2013 in Izmit and 2014 in Vladivostok, to which she served also as a secretary. Unfortunately, the proceedings of the meeting in Vladivostok never materialized, and so at least the abstract she prepared for that meeting together with Nikolay Sukhachev (“Сontroversial Aspects of Historical Lexicology and Etymological Reconstruction (The complexity and multiaspectuality)”) is presented here.

Death is untimely by nature but harbours an important message: Recognize your talent and do not waste it. Albina Girfanova has made outstanding and lasting contributions to science and to humanity.

I offer my deepest condolences to Nikolay Sukhachev, her family, friends and colleagues.

Oliver Corff, February 7, 2018.

Obituary: Gisaburo N. KIYOSE, 1931–2017

Gisaburo N. Kiyose (清瀬義三郎則府, Kiyose Gisaburō Norikura, born in Tokyo on Jan. 25, 1931, died on July 30, 2017)

Gisaburo N. Kiyose started his studies at Kyoto University, graduating in 1954. He was a lecturer at Daitō Bunka University and Kokushikan University, before he went to the U.S.A., joining Indiana University, Bloomington, in 1964. In May 1973, he received his Ph.D. in Uralic and Altaic Studies, with the dissertation “A Study of the Jurchen Language and Script in the Hua-I I-Yu, with Special Reference to the Problem of its Decipherment.”

Even before receiving his Ph.D., he was active in giving lectures at summer schools of several universities, e.g. Minnesota University and Michigan University. In 1974, he became an assistant professor at California State University before he settled in Hawaii in 1979 while promoting his academic career at University of Hawaii. In 1994, he retired as a Professor Emeritus of that university. From Hawaii, he returned to his alma mater, Kyoto University, during the years 1989 to 1991. Later, he also held academic assignments at Himeji Dokkyō University and Osaka University of Foreign Studies.

Gisaburo N. Kiyose was an outstanding scholar with a passion for the fundamental questions of the fields he chose to study. In his dissertation (later published as A study of the Jurchen language and script: reconstruction and decipherment (Kyoto: Hōritsubunka-sha, 1977), he undertook the effort of a comprehensive reconstruction of the Jurchen language as recorded in the Jurchen version of the Hua-Yi Yiyu (華夷譯語), a collection of Foreign-Chinese glossaries (also known as Barbarian Glossaries) compiled be the Imperial Translation Bureau of the Ming Dynasty. Only a few monuments of this early Manchu language have survived; a dozen stone inscriptions are known, a few traces can be found in Chinese historical records, but certainly the most comprehensive monument is the Hua-Yi Yiyu. It contains several hundred entries in an arrangement classified by meanings (this type of arrangement can be traced back to the Erya), representing each lemma in three versions: Jurchen (in Jurchen script), Chinese, and Jurchen (in an approximated rendering using Chinese characters; e.g., the first entry renders “heaven” as 阿卜哈以, or abukayi, which corresponds with Manju abka.).

Besides this lasting contribution to the field of Manchu-Tungus studies, he was also a prolific scholar of the Japanese language. As early as 1969, he was confident enough to challenge a few well-established traditions of Japanese grammar, notably in the field of verb analysis. In December 1969, he contributed a seminal communication to the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association of America with the bold title “Meaningless Conjugational Forms in Japanese Grammar”. His main point was that the traditional analysis of Japanese verb classes claimed the existence of a conjugation (jp. 活用形, katsuyōkei) where, as a matter of fact, a derivational analysis following the example of Altaic languages would be much more appropriate. Two years later, he published an extended version of this contribution in Japanese: 連結子音と連結母音と――日本語動詞無活用論 Renketsu shi’in to renketsu bo’in to: Nihongo dōshi mu katsuyō ron. [Juncture Consonants and Juncture Vowels in Japanese] SJL, Vol 86, 1971, pp. 42-56. This paper spawned a new school in Japanese grammar, the “derivational grammar” (派生文法, hasei bunpō); he later continued to publish on this question. Two publications should be mentioned: 日本語文法新論・派生文法序説Nihongo bunpō shinron: hasei bunpō josetsu [A new approach  to Japanese grammar: introduction to a derivational grammar] (Ōfū 1989, 2nd ed. 1993), and 日本語文法体系新論・派生文法の原理と動詞体系の歴史 Nihongo bunpō taikei shinron: hasei bunpō no genri to dōshi taikei no rekishi [A new approach to the Japanese grammatical system: principles of derivational analysis and a history of the verbal system] (Hitsuji Shobō 2013). He also wrote a complete Japanese grammar (Japanese Grammar: A New Approach, Kyoto: Kyoto University Press, 1995).

The early years at Indiana University shaped his life-long occupation with Altaic studies as the sources he used in his article of 1971 vividly show. His broad and profound understanding of language allowed him to question the fundamentals of established theories and to challenge traditional assumptions of grammatical analysis. Besides Japanese, he continued to write about Altaic questions: 日本語学とアルタイ語学Nihon gogaku to Arutai gogaku [Japanese linguistics and Altaic linguistics] (Tokyo: Meiji Shoin, 1991), and he wrote an Introduction to Literary Manchu: 満洲語文語入門 Manshūgo bungo nyūmon, with 河内良弘 Kawachi Yoshihiro (Kyoto University Press, 2002, 2nd edition 2005, 3rd edition 2014).

He participated several times in PIAC meetings (1995, 1996 and 1998), speaking about Jurchen and Manchu palatal/velar consonants and vowel harmony.

Prof. Kiyose leaves his wife Yoshie and two sons. He is remembered by his friends as a unique person, brilliant, humorous, and kind.

Oliver Corff, August 12, 2017.

Obituary: Hidehiro OKADA, 1931–2017

Hidehiro Okada (岡田英弘, born in Tokyo on Jan. 24, 1931, died May 25, 2017) was one of Japan’s leading scholars in the field of Manju studies, Mongolian history and Central Asian history.

He was born into a family of scholars, his father Okada Masahiro being a famous pharmacologist and head of the Tokyo Medical and Dental University, his younger brother Okada Shigehiro being an archaeologist and ethnologist and later head of the Museum for the History of the North East.

In 1953, he graduated from the faculty of Oriental Studies of the University of Tokyo, receiving his first scholarly award, the Japan Academy Prize, in 1957 for his work on the Manwen Laodang (満文老档), or “Old Manchu Archive”, a collection of documents covering the early phase of the Manchu empire before 1644 when Beijing became the official seat of the Qing Empire.

The occupation with the Manwen Laodang set the great lines of his lifelong scholarly endeavours as much as his early exposure to the international scientific community. He was awarded a Fulbright scholarship in 1959 which enabled him to spend two years at University of Washington in Seattle where he became a disciple of Nicholas Poppe. Again two years later, in 1963, he had the opportunity to go to Bonn, Federal Republic of Germany, where he was a visiting scholar at Prof. Heissig’s Institute for Languages and Cultures of Central Asia at Bonn University.

Commuting between numerous high-ranking academic assignments in Japan and abroad, he spent another three years (1968–1971) as a guest professor at University of Washington.

He was a faithful participant and active contributor to the PIAC over many years, contributing at least 15 times with research on the Erdeni-Yin Tobči, Chinggis Khan as well as the relations between the Mongols, the Qing and the Chinese. He hosted the PIAC in 1995 in Kawasaki and was awarded the PIAC Medal, or Indiana University Prize for Altaic Studies, in 1999.

His unique view of history through the eyes of both Asian and Western perspective, going back to Sima Qian in China and Herodotus in Greece, shaped his scientific work from the very beginning. He occupied himself with fundamental questions on the nature of empires, as reflected in his research on the Mongolian empire and the Manchu dynasty. His subtle yet expressive personal style and fluency in foreign languages made him a scholar who was appreciated internationally; he was awarded with Mongolia’s highest decoration the Polar Star, by the Mongolian government in 2008.

His rich oeuvre was published in eight volumes: 岡田英弘著作集 (Collected Works of Hidehiro Okada, Fujiwara Shoten, 2013 — 2016).

Hidehiro Okada leaves his wife, Junko Miyawaki, the intellectual companion of many decades of inspiring and fruitful collaboration, and like her husband a faithful member of the PIAC community; to her I wish to offer my deepest condolences.

Oliver Corff, May 28, 2017.

Obituary: Igor de Rachewiltz (1929–2016)

Igor de Rachewiltz, April 11, 1929 – July 30, 2016, of Italy, born in Rome to a family with Longobard and Tatar ancestry, started his academic career with law, yet soon switched to Oriental studies (Naples, Italy) and earned his PhD in Australia (Australian National University, Canberra) in 1961. His subject at that time nominally was Chinese history, but his perception of the subject was much broader and shifted to Mongolia. If, in any conceivable case, there were an idea of something like a last word in science, then his acclaimed translation of “The Secret History of the Mongols” (published over 14 years from 1971 to 1985, and finally published in one piece 2004) deserves this merit.

Being an occasional contributor to the PIAC, he enjoyed the command of a renaissance mind enlightened and honed by a unique combination of Western and Oriental civilizations; thus he was able to combine fields seemingly widely apart into one treatise, like the title of his paper of 1985 “Dante’s Aleppe: A Tartar Word in Tartarus?” demonstrates. He was awarded the Indiana University Prize for Altaic Studies in 2004.

Those who had the priviledge to meet him praise his charming and warm-hearted personality. He never really could hide his youthful curiosity and humour, making conversations with him a lasting memory.


Oliver Corff, August 19th, 2016.

Obituary: Charles Roskelly Bawden (1924–2016)

Charles Roskelly Bawden FBA (22 April 1924 – 11 August 2016), Emeritus Professor of Mongolian, University of London, died after short illness, aged 92. He was an outstanding scholar whose research on Mongolia encompassed a broad range of subjects from medieval history to contemporary affairs, both religious and worldly, like “The modern history of Mongolia” (1968, 2nd rev. ed. 1989). He edited and published numerous classical Mongolian texts, like Lomi’s “Mongġol borǰigid oboġ-un teüke” of 1732 (with Walther Heissig, published 1957) and also wrote about philological issues, e.g. “Mongolian in Tibetan Script” (1960). Perhaps his most famous, and most read, yet probably not necessarily most frequently quoted work is the “Mongolian-English Dictionary” (published 1997). Besides these works, he also compiled an anthology of Mongolian traditional literature (2003) and continued to publish until just a few years ago.

A graduate student of Denis Sinor in Cambridge and a personal friend of Walther Heissig, he was an active participant in the early years of the PIAC who participated in virtually every meeting between 1958 and 1966. He was awarded the Indiana University Prize for Altaic Studies in 2012, a late acknowledgement of his lifelong contributions to the broader field of Mongolian and Inner Asian studies.


Oliver Corff, August 19th, 2016.

Obituary: Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. György Hazai (1932-2016)

We are grieving the passing of the great Turkologist and Ottomanist scholar György Hazai in Budapest on 7 January, 2016. György Hazai was both a full member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and an honorary member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA), also an honorary member of numerous scholarly institutions and organisations including the Turkish Language Association (TDK), the American Oriental Society, the Deutsche Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, and the Societas Uralo-Altaica. He received numerous academic and state honours and citations.

The range of his scholarly research included Turkology in general, Ottoman and Turkish linguistic history, transcription texts, Turkish dialects, historical documents, and Old-Turkish Studies.

His publications in the field of Turkish Bibliography and Documentation proved to be especially influential, in particular his on-going Bibliography of Turkish and Ottoman Studies, the Turkologischer Anzeiger/Turkology Annual (TA), which he initiated and published in collaboration with the unforgettable Turkologist Andreas Tietze.

By means of his work at several universities and in numerous scholarly organisations he contributed to the development of Turkology but also of Oriental Studies generally.

Unfailingly he worked to build bridges between scholarly traditions, people, and lands. As president of the 12th Annual Meeting of the Permanent International Altaistic Conference (PIAC) in Berlin in 1969, he succeeded in assembling an impressive mix of orientalists from both the East and the West, a remarkable achievement which cannot be overestimated, given the historical situation at that time.

György Hazai brought scholarly discourse to its foremost level, innovating with new problems and solutions. In these efforts he was always intensely interested in the exchange of ideas and cooperation within a widely-conceived and internationally-spread network of colleagues.