Milan Mihaljević

Featured Linguist: Milan Mihaljević

Featured Linguist: Milan Mihaljević

Featured Linguist: Milan Mihaljević

My decision to become a linguist owes much to happenstance. At eighteen I was, like many teenagers, in the metaphysical phase, searching for the meaning of life. Although I was offered a very good scholarship for business studies, I decided to study philosophy. At the Faculty of Humanities and Social Science of the University of Zagreb we had to combine two programs. The major subject (A) lasted four, and the minor (B) lasted three years. Naturally, I chose Philosophy as my A subject. My first choice for the B program was English, but the problem was that I had learned English only for a short period of time and my command of the language was not good enough to pass the entrance test. Therefore, I had to choose something else. I can’t explain why I chose General Linguistics, since until then I didn’t know that such a program existed. However, after few months I discovered that Philosophy was not as interesting as I had expected and that Linguistics was far more exciting. I decided, and with the support of Radoslav Katičić, who was the chair of linguistic department at the time and later the supervisor of my PhD thesis, succeeded to change Linguistics into my major subject. As a third-year student I discovered Generative Grammar. The topic of my MA thesis was the relations between syntax and semantics in Chomsky’s theory.

After graduation 1978, I got a job in the Old Church Slavonic Institute in Zagreb in which I have stayed until now. It is interesting that, even two weeks before I started working there, I didn’t know that such an institute existed. This is a philological institute devoted to the research of medieval Croatian texts written in the Glagolitic script. As I started working there, I had to find a “common denominator” between my general linguistic education and the needs of my new job. I started to apply generative theory to the old texts written in Croatian Church Slavonic, a language which was used only as a literary language (mostly in liturgy) and never had native speakers. The topic of my PhD thesis was generative phonology of Croatian Church Slavonic. In order to work successfully in such an institution, I had to acquire different philological skills. For example, when a new Glagolitic text is found, I have to determine when and where it was written, and whether it was translated from the Greek or Latin protograph. In order to do that, it is not enough to describe its language. You also need some knowledge of codicology, palaeography, history, etc. In this way, I soon became an unusual combination of a modern, generative linguist and a traditional philologist. They have lived peacefully side by side in my head for many years, and I like both of them equally.

Very important for my professional carrier was a postdoc year (1985-1986) which, thanks to the Herder scholarship provided by the FSV foundation from Hamburg, I spent in the Institut für Slawistik at the University of Vienna. Working with professors František Václav Mareš and Radoslav Katičić, as well as with colleagues Johannes Michael Reinhart and Georg Holzer, I have learned a lot about Slavistics, especially about Old Church Slavonic and Slavic comparative grammar.

In addition to the engagement in the Old Church Slavonic Institute, I have also taught different subjects (Old Church Slavonic language, Slavic comparative grammar, Generative syntax and phonology) at most Croatian universities (Zagreb, Split, Pula, Rijeka, Osijek, Zadar) to undergraduate and graduate students of Croatian language and General Linguistics. Although I studied Linguistics by chance, I was fortunate in my irrational decision, and after more than forty years I wouldn’t change it for anything else.

 

 

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