University of Saskatchewan

September 17, 2014   


October 22, 1999

University of Saskatchewan professor Curt Wittlin, the world's leading expert outside Spain in medieval Catalan language and literature, will be presented "in absentia" with the Distinguished Researcher Award at the Fall Convocation Oct. 23.

"Prof. Wittlin's lifetime contribution to the study of Catalan language and literature has done much to make the U of S recognized in the scholarly world," said Michael Corcoran, U of S Vice-President (Research). "He is one of Canada's leading humanities scholars and a very worthy recipient of this award."

Wittlin will be unable to accept the award in person because he is currently in Spain conducting research on medieval Catalan documents. Catalan is a Romance language derived from Latin.

Following the end of Spanish Civil War in 1939 and until General Franco's death in 1975, Spain's universities were purged of Catalan scholars. Wittlin's research since the mid-60s has helped ensure the survival of Catalan medieval scholarship.

More recently, Wittlin has been enlisted in the struggle to preserve the Catalan language, a minority language spoken by about eight million people in the autonomous regions of Catalonia in Barcelona, Valencia and the Balearic Islands.

"I expect that in 50 years Catalan will still be around but it may be just a language spoken at home," he says.

He stresses Catalan scholarship is crucial to understanding how people thought and lived in medieval times. "The whole correspondence of the Catalan kings was in Catalan. The language played a major role in European history," he said.

Wittlin uses linguistics and culture to explain the meaning of medieval texts. He has uncovered common patterns of mistakes made by medieval translators.

The work is solitary and sometimes tedious. Because parchment texts can't be scanned electronically, they have to be manually transcribed. But there's less chance of errors now that the scholar can take a laptop computer into the archive rooms instead of copying by hand and then re-copying with a typewriter.

But for Wittlin the thrill of discovery makes it all worthwhile. He recalls the excitement he felt in a Valencia archive room when he came across the parchment will of a rich man who had died in 1418. The will provided an inventory of the man's possessions and a fascinating glimpse into the man's life and time. "I was the first person to open it in 400 to 500 years," he says. "It's the kind of moment every scholar needs in order to keep studying."

His scholarly work has received recognition both within Canada and outside. In 1988, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the senior national body of distinguished Canadian scientists and scholars. He is also a Fellow of the Barcelona-based Institute of Catalan Studies which judged his book Repertori d'expressions multinominals to be the best book in medieval Catalan studies written from 1988 to 1989.

This year, the Institute awarded Wittlin its prestigious International Catalonia Prize for life achievement in studies about Catalan language and culture. The award goes to scholars who are not Catalans.

One of his books - a critical edition of a medieval "bestseller" - was judged by the Spanish publishing house Serra d'Or to be the best 1996 book on Catalan studies written by a foreigner.

Born and educated in Basel, Switzerland, Prof. Wittlin came to the U of S in 1967. A member of the Department of Languages and Linguistics, he has published 12 books in 17 volumes and more than 70 articles. Nine of his books are editions of medieval Latin, Spanish and Catalan manuscripts. In many cases, they are the first printed edition of these manuscripts.

The Distinguished Researcher Award, which carries a $1,000 prize, is presented semi-annually to a U of S faculty member who has made a major contribution to knowledge or artistic creativity.

For more information, contact:

Kathryn Warden
Research Communications Officer
Office of the Vice-President Research
(306) 966-2506

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