Stanley Insler, RIP.

I was shocked to see Victor Mair’s post Stanley Insler, 1937-2019 at the Log just now. Mair writes:

Stanley was born on June 23, 1937 in New York City and received his B.A. from Columbia College in 1957. He did postgraduate studies at the University of Tübingen (1960-1962), carried out research at the University of Madras, and received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1963. In the same year he became a member of the faculty at Yale where he remained until his retirement in 2012. Stanley served as Chair of the Department of Linguistics from 1978-1989. […]

Stanley’s translation of the Avestan Gāthās is widely regarded as the modern standard. He made a conspicuous contribution to the study of the Gāthās by contesting the extreme ritualistic interpretation applied to them by earlier scholars. […]

In the Grammatik der Prakrit-Sprachen by Thomas Oberlies and Richard Pischel, Stanley’s insight into the mutual influence of phonological and morphological change in Pali is enshrined as “Insler’s Law” […].

Upon learning of Stanley’s passing, Don Ringe exclaimed, “This is quite a shock; Stanley was planning to attend the East Coast Indo-European Conference here in June. He was a good friend, a good colleague, and a great Sanskritist and Indo-Iranianist.”

Stephanie Jamison adds, “He was an inspiring — and exacting — teacher.”

Stanley taught me Sanskrit back in the early ’70s, and I was in awe of his knowledge of the Indo-Iranian languages and his eagerness to impart it to his students. He was, as Stephanie says, exacting, and we didn’t get along especially well — he was appalled by both my disinclination to learn devanagari (I was an Indo-Europeanist, not a Sanskritist, and I only cared about the linguistic material, not the writing system) and my tendency to show up in class clutching a cup of coffee (hey, it was my first class in the morning and I was barely awake), and I was put off by his sarcasm and occasionally harsh treatment of students (though in that he didn’t differ much from the rest of the grad school faculty). But I respected the hell out of him, and I’m sorry he’s gone. There aren’t many scholars of his caliber.


  1. J.W. Brewer says:

    He must have been pretty young when he taught you. I was a bit surprised to see the year of birth because I had supposed he was older than that, but that probably just means that back when I was in college in the mid-Eighties any professor roughly the same age as my own parents (both born the year immediately after Prof. Insler’s nativity) seemed impossibly/arbitrarily old even though I am older than that now myself. Sanskrit is the primary class I ended up not taking as an undergrad that I’ve regretted omitting ever since, although given the reputed rigor of his pedagogy perhaps it would not have been been a good fit for the slacker dilettante I was back then.

  2. I guess he was, but he seemed ageless to me: a combination of spry youth and wizened scholar. (I was so clueless then — but then in the early 1970s such cluelessness, unthinkable now, was pretty common — that I told a fellow student I envied Insler’s success with women, who always seemed to be flocking around him; it took me a long time to undrop my jaw when my interlocutor explained to me that he was gay.)

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