- Linguistic, Oriental and Ethiopian Studies in Memory of Paolo Marrassini ed. by Alessandro Bausi et al.
Begun as a festschrift for the honoree in his 70th year, this weighty book of four remembrances and 36 articles appears as a memorial to Paolo Marrassini (1942–2013), Professor and Chair of Ethiopic Language and Literature at the University of Florence, city of his birth, and Professor and Chair of Semitic Philology there until his retirement in 2009.
The book’s table of contents is found (at the time of this writing) as part of the book’s entry on the publisher’s website, Harrassowitz-verlag. de. The 36 articles range in length from 7 to 56 pages and average 20. Eighteen of the 36 are in English, 15 in Italian, and 3 in French. Twenty may be considered primarily works of philology, 10 of linguistics, and 6 of history. Seventeen or almost half of the 36 concern topics of northeast African studies: 10 philological, 4 historical, and 3 linguistic. Each of these 17 is briefly discussed below.
The remembrances of Marrassini are contributed by four of his students, of whom three are the editors, and the fourth Riccardo Contini. [End Page 149] One of the four remembrances is the obituary written by Alessandro Bausi (Bausi 2013), which appeared in the journal Aethiopica and may be found on the website of this open-source journal, in no. 16 for 2013, 200–212. It includes Marrassini’s lengthy and wide-ranging publications list, which, “updated and slightly revised,” is reprinted in this book. Bausi describes Marrassini as a “passionate, engaged, curious, and sensitive man, a meticulous scientific investigator with vast perspectives and a broad cultural horizon, an incomparable, devoted and generous teacher, and a profound methodological innovator in all the fields he dealt with.”
Bausi’s description is consistent with this reviewer’s acquaintance with Marrassini, based upon his writings and conference presentations including at several of the formerly regular Italian conferences on Hamito-Semitic linguistics, and highlighted by a mile or so walk at the conference in Udine in 2007, during which, up close, Marrassini impressed me as a selfless teacher and knowledgeable and absorbed scholar who would earn the love of his students and the respect of his colleagues.
Marrassini’s work, like the 36 articles in this book, was in the three fields of philology, history, and linguistics, including significant papers in linguistics examining the membership and propriety of the South Semitic language family, but mostly in philology, so a review of this volume is perhaps a good opportunity to become better acquainted with this discipline somewhat peripheral to the usual social science perspective of this journal and perhaps briefly characterizable as the intersection of language, literature, linguistics, and history, with the widest, deepest intersection being that of language and literature.
Encyclopaedia Britannica Online describes philology as
traditionally, the study of the history of language, including the historical study of literary texts. … The philological tradition is one of painstaking textual analysis, often related to literary history and using a fairly traditional descriptive framework.
In fact, analysis of “literary texts” seems to be typical, and the focus that distinguishes philology within the historical study of languages (Bausi 2010: 142). It is the singular interest in texts, indeed old texts, that characterizes philology and has tended to limit its importance in northeast African studies to Semitic matters. [End Page 150]
The quantification of this book’s contents, excluding the remembrances, as 56 percent philology (20 of 36 articles) is unrecognized in the title, Linguistics, Oriental and Ethiopian Studies. One thinks of the evolution of “Ethiopian studies” as increasingly noticed at the international conferences on Ethiopian studies since the 1970s: increase of interest in fields like political science, economics, and especially development studies and corresponding proportionate decline in Semitic studies, coincident with a growing number of papers by Ethiopians. Indeed, northeast African studies has undergone a steady broadening of scope and movement away from “traditional concerns of humanities” (Baye 2002), particularly Semitic...