Herbert Galton

Professor, Deceased
Primary office:

Obituary (English)

Obituary (German)

From his students:


Students of Professor Galton studied at just one degree of separation from the Prague Linguistic Circle and the Slavic phonological theories of Nicholas Trubetzkoy. Professor Galton's Slavic linguistics courses at KU were as organically designed and presented as the structuralist theory that informed them: every detail and argument supported a larger picture of systemic linguistic evolution and teleologically driven structural balance that often snapped fully into place for students only toward the end of the course. I can personally say that Professor Galton's original and elegant theory of Slavic verbal aspect, based on the opposition of simultaneity and succession, continues to determine nearly every aspectual choice I make when speaking (or trying to speak) a Slavic language--as well as the way I explain aspect to my own students. I will always remain grateful for Professor Galton's gift for sharing his intellectual passion and profound knowledge of Slavic linguistics. [Jan. 11, 2005]

Michael Biggins, Slavic librarian and affiliate professor of Slavic languages and literature, University of Washington, Seattle




I think Mike Biggins summed up Professor Galton's legacy to his students elegantly and succcinctly. I would only add that I never considered myself as anything other than fortunate to have had him as a professor.
In addition to courses in Slavic linguistics, Professor Galton also taught courses in various Slavic languages. I had him for Bulgarian and also Old Church Slavic. With him I actually enjoyed OCS. Somehow he managed to make it fun. In addition he also taught Macedonian and Czech on occasion. In the area of Slavic Linguistics he taught History of the Russian Language (exterior history of the language), Introduction to the History of the Russian Language (the interior history of the language), Structure of Russian (which dealt largely with his theory of aspect), Russian Syntax, Russian Phonetics, Old Russian Literature (which he always insisted he was not qualified to teach, but in which he did a fine job), Old Russian Language, and virtually every other linguistics course offered in the departemnt. He seemed to be equally interested in both synchronic and diachronic linguistics.
He had mastered the following languages: Russian, Polish, Czech, Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Old Church Slavic, Ancient and Modern Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and English. His non-Indo-European Languages were Hungarian and Hebrew. Moreover he knew some Slovene and learned Slovak later in life in order to communicate with his wife. He also learned some Turkish and other Uralic and Altaic languages for the research of his later years. He read literary masterpieces in all of his languages. I think he tried to read at least one book a year in each of his modern languages. Unlike some linguists, who make a show of not being interested in literature, Professor Galton professed a love for literature, although when he read fiction, he was always sensitive to what tenses, aspects, moods, et cetera the authors were using in order to express their ideas. In his courses he was very generous with examples from other languages, and even other disciplines. I remember his once bringing up calculus in the Structure of Russian class and then berating me because I had no idea what he was talking about. In short studying with Professor Galton was a privilege.
[Jan. 13, 2005]

Gary Roy (from Lima, Peru), Thornton Academy, Saco, ME

Dapper suit in charcoal gray.
Fine-print thin necktie.
Black shoes, white shirt.
Immaculate pocket handkerchief, unfurled between forefinger and thumb as a fresh clean lining for the desk, to accommodate one book satchel of lecture notes.

Always, a moment of silence for divergent views regarding the previous lecture. We students waited quietly, like wedding guests prepared to forever hold our peace. Nevertheless, bracing his spectacles with one firm knuckle to prepare for waves of controversy, he would sweep the room with a keen gaze.
“Please,” he would declare at last, “If I hear no objections, I go on.”

Class was in session!
Any of a number of classes, in fact: East Slavic Linguistics, West Slavic Linguistics, South Slavic Linguistics, Bulgarian I and II, Old Church Slavonic I and II, tutorials on Russian verbal aspect, and more.

He presided over a podium of high drama. Dive for a dropped ballpoint, and by the time you resurfaced the nasal vowels of Russian were vanishing into thin air, or the world was losing the very last native speaker of Pomeranian (On his deathbed, to whom did that poor man speak?). One rival school of linguistic thought was unmasked in colorful Arthurian mythical terms as knaves and lackeys who “I defeated in my answering letter, with a single stroke of Occam’s Razor!” He had a field day making fun of a translation rendering festive garb as “festive garbage.” He liked to declare that “The loveliest word in any language is the Polish word for ‘swan.’” The word itself and its diacritics can not be rendered in my English font, but to another swan the call would have been unmistakeable: He would stand tall and fling up his arms, crying “WA-bondzh! WA-bondzh!” That exultant call was the highlight of every semester.

“Bright In Arms,” he would explain, giving the etymology of his first name, Herbert; one who is destined for success in the military. Faithful to his name, he championed the cause of linguistic precision, based on a thorough grounding in language history, as an influence upon our personal integrity and culture. And oh, how he tried to instill the rudiments of good breeding in the class dullard, me. He was generous with the loan of his textbooks, but urged me to “Wrap it! Wrap it!,” to bring a paper cover to school to receive and wrap the book while I read it. Before accepting my exams he would sing out “Every jot and tittle!” and would wait after class so I could sit there drawing in all the dots above my letters “i” and “j.” Vexed by my just-the-facts writing style, he would insist “If you ever do manage to write a book, it will be a book of Aphorisms! Aphorisms!” Most of all, he was determined to eradicate from my speech the slovenly word “okay.”

I in turn began dotting not only “i”’s and “j”’s but my “p”’s and “q”’s as well, wrapped his books in Peanuts comic strips, and presented him with a counterfeit gift certificate for a local taxi company, good for one ride “in a festive cabbage.” While traveling I once mailed a postcard to his home, addressed to “Professor O.K. Galton”; he was shocked with me for sending it, and with the postal service for delivering such a thing, but did like the card. A colleague humorously renamed our study of the Kiev Missal the “Kiev Missal Crisis,” so before the holidays I taped Christmas greenery to the classroom door as Kiev Missaltoe and sang him “The Twelve Days,” based on archeological findings of early Slavs ending with “...and a shard of what we think says ‘Mustard Pot.’”

Over time, he proved to be a remarkably good sport.
Once a joke had his approval, he would actually repeat it at every opportunity. Each time, he and we would laugh just as much. He even began tampering with his own sacred lecture opening, substituting other verbs:

Please, if I hear no objections, I prattle on.
Please, if I hear no objections, I rant on.

Just last week, we heard the news.
A colleague emailed me right away with a question: Was it respectful enough, picturing our teacher communing with his Polish swans at last? Why not?
I picture him there myself. Herbert, in even brighter festive arms, exultant in that flock. When I reach the gates of pearl, that is how I will find him from afar, by the cry of triumph in the distance. WA-bondzh!

Please, from me he will hear no objections.
[Jan. 26, 2005]

Mary Giles, National Resource Center, Harvard University

KU’s Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies program is one of only 12 federally-funded national resource centers in the US
Only doctoral program in Slavic Languages and Literatures between the Mississippi and the West Coast
100% of graduate students in the Slavic program had funding in academic year 2012-13
KU's Libraries house over 500,000 volumes of Slavic books and electronic editions
Two of the department’s last four doctoral candidates have won a Fulbright grants to conduct dissertation research abroad