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.)

Speak Your Mind