Press Releases > press releases > A Universal Theory of Language (2003)

Yerevan State University
Faculty of Philology
Contact: Prof. Dr. A. Avagyan
Tel: 3741 55 50 10
1 Alec Manoogian, Yerevan


Official presentation of a Linguistic Treatise.
Gevork B. Jahukian, in collaboration with Dora Sakayan. 2003. A Universal Theory of Language. Prolegomena to Substantional Linguistics. Ann Arbor: Caravan Books. 335 pp.

An official presentation ceremony for the linguistic treatise, A Universal Theory of Language. Prolegomena to Substantional Linguistics, by Academician Gevork B. Jahukian in collaboration with Prof. Dr. Dora Sakayan was held in Yerevan, Armenia, on Sept. 26, 2003. The book is based on the original Russian version of Jahukian’s Universal’naia te-oriia iazyka published by the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1999. The ceremony was held in the Charents Assembly Hall of the Yerevan State University (YSU), which was filled to capacity with representatives from the National Academy of Sciences and YSU faculty and students. The event was chaired by the Dean of the YSU Faculty of Philology, Prof. Dr. Artsrun Avagian. The opening speech was delivered by the Prorector of YSU, Prof. Dr. Ara Simonian, who attached paramount importance to the new publication and congratulated not only Professors Jahukian and Sakayan, but also the entire academic community in Armenia. He stressed the significance of such publications for a small country like Armenia, whose intellectual achievements are insufficiently known in the international community. He expressed the hope that Dora Sakayan’s courageous undertaking and her success would incite other scholars to follow her example.

The first speaker was Prof. Dr. Dora Sakayan, who gratefully acknowledged the Tchinnosian foundation’s financial assistance for the realization of this publication. She then gave the audience a sense of her incentive to undertake this awesome responsibility and shared some of the difficulties she encountered in the various stages of the preparation of this work. She indicated that this treatise came about as part of her project “Armenian Studies for the English-Speaking World,” which she has started as a Professor of German Studies at McGill University in Montreal 20 years ago, and which so far has given gratifying results. Speaking of her role in A Universal Language Theory, she rejected the epithets translator, editor, publisher etc. and jokingly suggested that a new word should be coined to characterize her participation. One of the biggest obstacles for a smooth collaboration with Jahukian was the great distance which in today’s era of technology could easily be overcome if the Adjarian Institute of Language in the National Academy of Armenia would be computerized. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Thus, to coordinate her work with Prof. Jahukian and get his approval for the many changes she introduced, she had to fly twice to Armenia and stay there each time for extended periods. Overall, she said, time and energy spent on this treatise was very well worth it, considering the outstanding outcome.

The next speaker, Prof. Hovhannes Barseghian, began by highly praising Prof. Sakayan’s work not only with regard to Jahukian’s treatise, but also for other Armenian studies, which in the last two decades have had a great impact on the development of contemporary Armenian linguistics. He congratulated her on the cross-cultural analysis of the Armenian lexicon she recently had presented at the International Conference of Armenologists and expressed the view that her socio-linguistic treatment and the ensuing results make a most valuable contribution to the proper assessment of the Armenian language. Taking up his main task, that of discussing the contents of the Russian original of Univer-sal’naia teoriia iazyka, he then went on to pay tribute to the author, Acad. Jahukian, saying: “Based on the linguistic heritage of the last two centuries as well as on the data of many languages around the world, Jahukian is offering a universal model for the describing natural languages with general criteria. Unlike existing approaches in modern linguistics, which are predominantly formal in nature, his model is based on the ‘substantional’ nature of the world.”

Next, Docent Yelena Yerznkian, Chair of the English Department at YSU, drew a comparison between the English edition and Jahukian’s Russian original and observed that there are significant differences between the two, and this, not simply because of a new, supplemental chapter in the English edition. Dr. Yerznkian pointed out that since the objective of the new publication is to bring Jahukian’s achievements to the attention of the international linguistic community, Sakayan provided in her foreword a short introduction of Jahukian’s life and works. She also added a more extensive list of Jahukian’s pertinent works in the bibliography. In an attempt to make the book more accessible to the Western reader, she introduced some important changes, involving both the structure and the pres-entation of the new theory. Furthermore, she added new examples, coined new terms and unified the old English terminology, rearranged and renumbered the notes, complemented and updated the bibliography, created subject and name indices, etc. Thus, the new edition is presented as a completely revised and more extended version of the original Univer-sal’naia teoriia iazyka.

Last but not least, and indeed a very pertinent speaker, Prof. Liana Hovsepyan, Chair of the Department of Linguistics at YSU stressed the extraordinary importance of the occa-sion and said that “each new publication of Gevork Jahukian has been an important event. But this book has in many ways surpassed the relevance of the previous ones. It is known that the first half of the 20th century was marked by many new linguistic schools whose founders made history. The second half, however, was not as abundant in names. With his more than 20 monographs, written in Armenian or Russian, until recently Jahukian could not be presented to the world as the great linguist he really is, let alone be given a place in the international history of linguistics. Now he has become a serious contender. Jahukian’s theory on language universals is a breakthrough in general linguistics; it is up to the future generations of linguists to test the validity of Jahukian’s theory and develop it further. I have worked on the subject with Jahukian during the draft of the Russian edition, and I can appreciate the severity of the problems that made Dora Sakayan’s work such an ordeal. It is a very complicated theory, and I am glad that she took on the task. Even a quick browse through the English edition shows that Dora Sakayan’s contribution goes far beyond the work of a regular editor, translator, or publisher. She was indeed indispensable, and she has our praise. No wonder she is known in academic circles of Armenia as ‘Ambassador-at-large of Modern Armenian Linguistics’ abroad.”

The very last word was, of course, that of Academician Gevork Jahukian, who rose to ex-press his heartfelt thanks to Dora Sakayan. He acknowledged the many difficulties encountered along the course of this odyssey and called the completion of the English version a “truly heroic deed.” He remarked with satisfaction that the English version of his book equals to a new original and expressed his conviction that translations into other lan-guages will now be easier thanks to Sakayan’s English edition. He quipped, however, that he regretted having written this book so late in his life and seeing it in its English translation even later!

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