The Georg Morgenstierne Building inaugurated at the University of Oslo

The Georg Morgenstierne Building was inaugurated at the University of Oslo on February 15, named after the celebrated Norwegian Indo-Iranist scholar Georg Valentin von Munthe af Morgenstierne. In connection to this event an exhibition about his life and work opened in the University Library. The exhibition will be open for the public until March 19 this year.

The newly restored building houses The Department of Classics, History of Art and Ideas as well as The Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature.

The National Library of Norway also provides a database with Morgenstierne’s travel records in the form of more than 3000 photographs, moving images and audio recordings, now available on the Internet.

Who was Georg Morgenstierne?

Georg Morgenstierne (1892–1978) was an eminent Norwegian linguist and orientalist, specializing in Indo-Iranian languages, particularly those spoken in Afghanistan, the Pamirs, and the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. He made the first comprehensive phonetic and phonemic analysis of Avestan in his study “Orthography and Sound System of the Avesta” (1942). In it he criticized F. C. Andreas’s theory of the Avestan text, which had dominated Avestan studies in the first decades of the 20th century. Morgenstierne argued that the Avestan alphabet was invented by Sasanian priests in order to record an orally transmitted liturgical text with its phonetic nuances; in other words, the first notation of the Avesta text must have been a Sasanian archetype in an orthography indicative of a number features of purely phonetic, non-phonemic nature. The use of individual letters is analyzed from a phonetic point of view with regard to their phonemic interpretation. Where the Avestan language differs from theoretical Old Iranian, the differences are comparatively regular and can mostly be accounted for by phonological laws.

Morgenstierne’s second important publication in 1942 was his “Archaisms and Innovations in Pashto Morphology,” which still remains one of the few studies devoted to Pashto historical grammar. In 1944 came his collection of Pashai texts; his Pashai dictionary, appeared in 1956, and the grammar in 1967. Morgenstierne visited Afghanistan in 1949 and on various later occasions, and was always received with great honors as the leading European Pashto scholar. He was the first foreigner to be elected a member of the Pashto Academy in Kabul. His first visit to Iran was in 1954, to attend the Avicenna Jubilee in Tehran. In co-operation with E. Benveniste he had an opportunity of working for a few hours with a native speaker from Semnān, a town some 200 km west of Tehran, who continued to send him more words and grammatical forms. The results appeared in 1958 as “Notes on Sämnani” and “Additional Notes on Sämnani,” in which Morgenstierne discussed the phonetics and phonology of the dialect, gave a brief survey of the nominal and verbal inflections, a short list of verbs, and a few annotated texts, including some letters from his informant.

(Excerpt from Fridrick Thordarson’s article in Encyclopaedia Iranica)


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