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Sunday, January 21, 2018

The linguist with a scientific insight

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Suniti Kumar Chatterji was an Indian linguist, educationist and litterateur. He was a recipient of the third highest Indian civilian honour of Padma Bhushan. He was born on 26 November 1890 at Shibpur in Howrah. He was the son of Haridas Chattopadhyay, an affluent Kulin Brahmin.

Suniti Kumar was meritorious as a student, and passed the Entrance (1907) Examination from Motilal Shil Free School, ranking sixth, and the FA from Scottish Church College, standing third. He did his Major (Honours) in English literature from Presidency College, Kolkata, standing first in the first class in 1911.

His childhood friend was famous industrialist Nagendra Nath Das founder of Power Tools And Appliance Co. Ltd. In 1913, he completed his M.A. in English literature, again standing first. The same year, he was appointed lecturer in English at Vidyasagar College, Kolkata where his colleague was the thespian, Sisir Kumar Bhaduri.


He did his diploma in Phonetics (1909) and DLitt (1921) from London University on an Indian government scholarship. In London, he studied Phonology, Indo-European Linguistics, Prakrit, Persian, old Irish, Gothic and other languages. He then went to Paris and had research at the Sorbonne in Indo-Aryan, Slav and Indo-European Linguistics, Greek and Latin. Returning to India in 1922, he joined Calcutta University as a professor. After retirement he was made Professor Emeritus and, in 1963, National Professor.

Suniti Kumar accompanied Rabindranath Tagore to Malaya, Sumatra, Java, and Bali, where he delivered lectures on Indian art and culture. He represented Calcutta University at the second session of the International Conference on Phonetic Sciences in London and took part in conferences on linguistics in Asia, America, Australia and Africa. As a visiting professor he delivered lectures at both Indian and foreign universities.

He presided over the national language panel of the All-India Hindi Conference in Karachi. He was Speaker of the West Bengal Assembly (1952-58) and President (1969) of the Sahitya Academy.

Among his important publications on both language and literature are the origin and development of the Bengali language, Bengali Phonetic Reader, Bangla Bhasatattver Bhumika (Introduction to Bangla Linguistics), Bharater Bhasa O Bhasa Samasya (Language and Language Problem of India), Jati Sangskrti Sahitya (Nation, Culture, Literature), Sangskrti Ki (What is Culture), Rabindra Sabgame (Towards Unity with Raindranath), Pashchimer Yatri (Traveller to the West), Europe Bhraman (Travels in Europe), Dvipamay Bharat (India of Many Islands), etc.

He was awarded the title of Bhasacharya by Rabindranath Tagore, Sahitya Vachaspati (1948) by Allahabad Hindi Literary Conference and Padmabibhusan (1948) by the Government of India. Suniti Kumar breathed his last on 29 May 1977 in Calcutta.


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