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Janis Endzelins (1873-1961)


Janis ENDZELINS  (1873-1961), Latvian linguist, born in Mickeni, district of Valmiera, on Feb. 22, 1873. He studied classical philology from 1893-97 and Baltic and Slavic languages from 1898-1900 at the University of Tartu (Dorpat), Estonia, and remained there after these studies to prepare himself for university teaching. In 1905 he received a master's degree from Tartu, and in 1912 a doctor's degree from the University of St. Petersburg. He was professor at the University of Kharkov, Russia, from 1909-20 and at the University of Riga from 1920, with an appointment as dean of the philology department from 1920-22. Writing in eight different languages, he left approximately 300 scholarly pieces on philological topics. An outstanding linguist, he was elected a member of many foreign professional organizations, including the Linguistic Society of America (1930). Endzelins maintained close ties with Lithuanian linguists, exerting considerable influence on Kazimieras Būga, with whom he kept up an active correspondence.
Endzelins made very substantial contributions to research on his native language, Latvian. His most important work in this area is Lettische Grammatik (1922, a revised edition in Latvian appeared in 1951). Another monumental work, in cooperation with K. Millenbach, is Latviešu valodas vardnica (6 volumes, 1923-46), a dictionary of the Latvian language. The same two authors also produced Latviešu gramatika (1907), a grammar of Latvian designed for popular use. A noteworthy study of toponyms is Endzelins' Latvijas vietu vardi (vol. I, 1922; vol. 2, 1925). He also edited a scholarly collection of folksongs entitled Latviju tautas dainas (1928-36). These and other works assured Latvian a permanent position in Indo-European comparative linguistics and greatly influenced the development of Standard Latvian. For 20 years Endzelins served in various philological task-forces, devised many neologisms and to a high degree cleansed the Latvian language from barbarisms.
Endzelins also investigated ProtoBaltic, the relation of Baltic languages to Slavic and Germanic tongues, and Old Prussian and Couronian. Here his publications include Jevads 'baitu filologija (Introduction to Baltic Philology, 1945), Baltu valodu skanas un formas (Sounds and forms of the Baltic Languages, 1948; Lithuanian translation 1957), Senprušu valoda (Germ. Altpreussische Grammatik, Grammar of Old Prussian, 1944). In his German work Vber die Nationalitdt und Sprache der Kuren (1912) he proved conclusively that the Couronians were a Baltic tribe. In addition, Endzelins devoted much attention to the Lithuanian language, reviewed all of the more important publications dealing with it, and contributed articles to Lithuanian philological journals.
After World War II the Soviet administration, finding his work out of accord with Marxist conceptions, relieved Endzelins of his teaching duties and restricted his research to toponyms. New and expanded versions of his earlier work on toponyms were published (vol. 1, 1956; vol. 2, 1961). He died on July 1, 1961 in Riga.

Text from the ENCYCLOPEDIA LITUANICA I-VI.  Boston, 1970-1978