Slavic Professor Dies at 91

Slavic scholar brought new perspectives and approaches to field

Horace Gray Lunt ’41, a revered linguist and philologist who served in the Slavic languages and literatures department for 40 years, died Aug. 11. He was 91.

While many Slavic linguists prior to Lunt were natives of the region and based their study on cultural grounds, Lunt—who was born in Colorado Springs, Co.—worked to “ensure that linguistic argumentation rested on a rational, factual basis, countering any discussion based on nationalism or demagoguery,” wrote Ukranian Professor Michael S. Flier in an obituary of Lunt for the University.

At a time when Macedonian heritage was a politically charged question, Lunt’s controversial book “A Grammar of the Macedonian Literary Language,” published in 1952, lead to a disagreement between those who viewed Macedonian as an offshoot of Bulgarian and those who viewed Macedonian as a independent language.

Lunt’s “Old Church Slavonic Grammar” and “Fundamentals of Russian”—books published in 1955 and 1957, respectively—also both became definitive works in the field.

As a professor, Lunt favored having his students work directly with texts after only a preliminary taste of the grammar they would encounter in the reading.

“It was a baptism of fire that was both intimidating and salutary,” Flier wrote.

Lunt graduated from Harvard magna cum laude, having written an honors thesis on Nobel Prize-winning poet Hermann Hesse. He left the University in 1942 to serve in the army’s Counter Intelligence Corps, during which time he interviewed Yugoslav refugees and enhanced his knowledge of Serbian, Croatian, and Slovene.

After the war, Lunt returned to Harvard, where he held a wide array of positions, including chair of the Slavic department from 1959-1974, director of the Slavic and East European Language and Area Center from 1983-1989, and member of the Executive Committee of the Ukrainian Research Institute from 1973-1991.

Though Russian was Lunt’s language of choice, he learned it only after having already mastered Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, and German.

A series of prominent linguists served as Lunt’s advisors through the years, including Blaže Koneski—a Macedonian philologist who suggested Lunt write on Macedonian—and Russian structuralist Roman Jakobson, who preceded Lunt as the Samuel Hazzard Cross professor of Slavic languages and literatures.

According to Lunt’s longtime friend and MIT linguist Morris Halle, “Lunt completely commanded this field.”

A memorial for Lunt will be held on October 22 at 3:00 p.m. in Fong Auditorium.

—Staff writer Noah S. Rayman can be reached at

—Staff writer Elyssa A.L. Spitzer can be reached at