2007 Distinguished Contributions to Slavic Studies Award Winner
We honor Alexander Schenker with the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Slavic Studies for his important contributions to the field of Polish language and literature, for his further scholarly work in 18th-century cultural history, and for his pioneering role in shaping the development of Slavic linguistics as a scholarly field in the United States.
Born in Cracow in 1924, Schenker began his university studies in Dushanbe (then Stalinabad) in Tajikistan during World War II. After the war he studied at the Sorbonne, and eventually received his Ph.D. in linguistics from Yale in 1953. He has spent the rest of his scholarly career at Yale, becoming professor of Slavic linguistics. At Yale in the 1950s Schenker participated in the creation of one of America’s leading programs of Slavic languages and literatures. Because there was no appropriate textbook for teaching Polish, he ended up writing his own, Beginning Polish (1966), which has become a classic.
Specialized studies of language, like Schenker’s monograph Polish Declension (1964), or such articles as “Polish Conjugation” (1954), “Gender Categories in Polish” (1955), and “Some Remarks on Polish Quantifiers,” (1971), plus a volume on The Slavic Literary Languages: Formation and Development, coedited with Edward Stankiewicz (1980), led finally to Schenker’s landmark work The Dawn of Slavic: An Introduction to Slavic Philology (1996). This work places the emergence of Slavic languages in the context of early medieval history, and received the MLA’s Scaglione Prize for Studies in Slavic Languages and Literatures.
While The Dawn of Slavic represents the culmination of Schenker’s career in Slavic philology, he went on to publish a brilliant book in an entirely different arena of Slavic studies, The Bronze Horseman: Falconet’s Monument to Peter the Great (2003). With this book Schenker, approaching the age of 80, demonstrated his scholarly mastery in the fields of eighteenth-century French sculpture and Russian history, and his insight into the symbolic play of cultural politics.
In recent years Schenker has written as a public intellectual in the post-communist Polish public sphere, with articles on such subjects as Poland’s relation to Europe, and the future of Polish studies in the United States. For his own extraordinary contributions to Polish studies and Slavic linguistics the AAASS honors Alexander Schenker with this award.