Professor Bernard Comrie honored by Russian Academy of Sciences, British Academy

UCSB Linguistics Professor Bernard Comrie recently received two prestigious accolades, from both the Russian Academy of Sciences and the British Academy.


In October 2016, Professor Comrie was elected a Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), an honor reserved for “the most prominent foreign scientists recognized by the international scientific community".

Speaking on his election to the Academy and his work leading to it, Professor Comrie said: “I have been involved in cooperation with the Russian (formerly: Soviet) Academy of Sciences since the mid-1970s, in particular joint work in linguistic typology and in documentation and analysis of languages of the Russian Federation (formerly: USSR), especially languages of the Caucasus. One "bump" in the relationship: My book "Languages of the Soviet Union" was banned in the USSR for much of the 1980s; apparently there really is no such thing as bad publicity. Were any other people you might have heard of elected to the RAS at the same time as me? Remember Henry Kissinger? Well, you now know the only correct answer to the question: What do Henry Kissinger and Bernard Comrie have in common?”


In September 2017, Professor Comrie was awarded the British Academy’s Neil and Saras Smith Medal for Linguistics. The British Academy awards the Neil and Saras Smith Medal for Linguistics "annually for lifetime achievement in the scholarly study of linguistics”. The award was first awarded in 2014, and previous recipients (in order) are Noam Chomsky, William Labov, and John Lyons. Professor Comrie was recognized specifically for his "significant contributions to the study of language universals, linguistic typology and language history". 

Accepting the award, Professor Comrie remarked: "When I learned that I had been awarded this year's Neil and Saras Smith Medal for Linguistics, and had recovered from the initial shock, my first reaction was: A lifetime achievement award! Maybe this is a good time to quit, while I'm winning. But only for a split second, then I reconsidered. First, there's still a lot I want to learn about Language and languages. Second, when I look at the previous recipients, I realize that at a mere 70 years of age I am very much the baby of the class, so the field has every right to expect more years of productive work from me. I thank the Academy for initiating this generation change, on behalf of me and my cohort -- or should it be: my cohort and me?

"I would also like to thank Neil and Saras Smith for instituting this medal. Linguistics is a field with few awards and prizes, so this medal stands as a shining beacon to future generations of scholars.

"Finally, I would like to thank the many speakers of different languages who have worked with me over the years. Their languages are often endangered, they often come from socio-economically disadvantaged communities. Yet they have given generously of their time and resources in order to help me come to a better understanding of their languages and of Language in general."

Professor Comrie at the British Academy ceremony, September 2017