A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, March 11, 2013

"A Language Hunter, a Legend Hunter"

My most loyal readers know by now that just when you figure out what the subject of this blog may be, I skid off the main road and launch off into God Knows Where. You know I'm interested in minority peoples and languages, and those who have studied them. But sometimes you stumble onto a passage like this:
Aleksandr Gruenberg-Cvetinovic turned out to be a fascinating figure, an Iranologist and obsessive field researcher who documented countless small languages in the remote mountain valleys of the Caucasus and Central Asia, and saved and translated great many legends and folk poems.

At 22, he graduated from Leningrad University with a degree in Iranian Linguistics. In 1953, Gruenberg started graduate studies in the Institute of Linguistics. His Ph.D. project studied the languages of the Tats of Northern Azerbaijan who lived in an array of semi-isolated foothill villages (unlike the then more numerous Mountain Jew Tats of Dagestan, some of the Azerbaijani Tats were Shia Muslims, and some Armenian Christians; one group, the famed Lahiji copper-smiths, still considered themselves to be Persian transplants, albeit from the legendary times of a Shahnameh king Kai Khosrow).
And how can you NOT read on? It describes an indefatigable student of languages and folklore in the then-Soviet Caucasus and Central Asia, who publisned a collection of Sistani tales from the Shahnameh. Oh, and there's an expedition to look for the yeti in the account as well.

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