Campus & Community

Lunt, scholar of Slavic languages and literatures, dies at 91

2 min read

Horace Gray Lunt, Samuel Hazzard Cross Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures Emeritus, passed away on Aug. 11 in Baltimore, Md., scarcely a month short of his 92nd birthday.

Born Horace Gray Lunt II in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Sept. 12, 1918, Lunt received his degree magna cum laude in German in 1941 from Harvard, going on to become one of the world’s leading experts in Slavic philology and linguistics.

At Harvard he was a member of the Slavic Department faculty from 1949 to 1989 and served as its chair from 1959 to 1974. Armed with considerable linguistic and analytic skills, Lunt was instrumental in reshaping Slavic philology in the United States in structuralist terms. He insisted on the highest standards of textual analysis, providing new pedagogical tools for the post-World War II generation of American Slavists, investigating understudied areas of Slavic linguistics, and indicating new projects for in-depth study in Slavic languages, literatures, and cultures. A staunch foe of nationalistic exploitation of language for political purposes, Lunt strove his entire career to ensure that linguistic argumentation rested on a rational, factual basis, countering any discussion based on nationalism or demagoguery. Lunt was a superlative teacher, providing his students, undergraduate as well as graduate, with abundant handouts, charts, texts, and textbooks to ensure comprehensive understanding of the subject matter at hand, with clarity and accuracy his guiding principles. His interests in Slavic languages were wide-ranging, from paleography, phonology, morphology, and syntax to etymology, sociolinguistics, history, literature, and religion, and he leaves behind a large bibliography of published books, articles, and reviews.

Lunt was promoted from assistant professor to associate professor in 1954 and received a tenured full professorship in 1960, the same year he was named a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow. In 1973 he succeeded Roman Jakobson as the Samuel Hazzard Cross Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures.

He is survived by Sally Herman Lunt, his wife of 47 years, daughters Elizabeth Gray Lunt and Catherine Lunt Greer, son-in-law David S. Friedman, and five grandchildren. A memorial commemoration of Lunt’s life and work will be held on Oct. 22, at 3 p.m. in the Fong Auditorium of Boylston Hall at Harvard University. A reception will follow in the Faculty Club.