Wednesday, January 06, 2010

History of Linguistics at Wisconsin: Edward T. Owen

This is quite possibly the weirdest little thread of stuff I've ever seen in the rich history of linguistic science at the University of Wisconsin – Madison: The Yale Daily News reports here (it was just covered on NPR's Marketplace too) that a Skull & Bones artifact is up for auction at Christie's, pictured here. The little flap on top is apparently hinged, possibly used as a ballot box.

It apparently was owned by "Bonesman Edward T. Owen 1872, a French and linguistics professor at the University of Wisconsin." I knew his name but not as a linguist: He donated the land for Hoyt Park, an amazing urban chunk of land on Madison's near west side. There's an Owen Parkway that I think is named for the family and an Owen Street there that may be. Linguistics (and French), it seems, didn't occupy all his time, skull collecting aside as this bit on the Parkway indicates:
Edward T. Owen (1850 - 1931) was an educator and real estate speculator, and was a driving force behind the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association, which purchased land for public parks and drives decades before the city saw such need. In 1892 he bought a fourteen-acre tract of what was then wooded land along a commanding height about a mile south of Lake Mendota, parallel to the northern boundary of Resurrection (then Calvary) Cemetery. He donated it to the city as a pleasure drive dedicated to the memory of his daughters.
But I was curious about him as a linguist ... he was here and alive when a lot of the early giants were … must have known Haugen, Twaddell, all those folks. He seems to have written this book:
Linguistic Aberrations in Particular, Differences Between Thought Intended and Thought Express[ed?] by Owens, Edward T., Emeritus Professor Of French And Linguistics, University Of Wisconsin
Off to the library to see this one!


Anonymous said...

Be kind in what you say, please. That is my great-grandfather.

Mr. Verb said...

Nothing in here counts as unkind, I hope.

Unknown said...

It is amazing to enjoy the vision that an amazing person had so long ago, today! Thank you Professor Owen and his descendants!