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In Memoriam

Frederick Schwink, Associate Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Classics, Linguistics, and Medieval Studies, died in September 2010 at the age of 48.

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Ph.D. University of Texas


Germanic and Indo-European historical linguistics, language typology, history of linguistics, Germanic cultural history and prehistory


My path to Illinois was more than a little circuitous, although many of my ancestors lived in this state before heading for points further west. I was born in Wyoming but grew up and attended school and university in the fair state of Iowa. I took three years of high school German with two extraordinary teachers, Robert Berkeley and Carl Pullen. Mr. Pullen’s class was so exceptional that I found our readings of Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts or Bahnwärter Thiel of great use even during my graduate school days. At the age of 17 I made the leap of applying and being accepted for an exchange with the Indianola Iowa Rotary Club to spend a year in Germany, in the industrial Ruhrgebiet. It was there, in the city of Essen that I found the way to my engagement with older Germanic languages and literatures. In the fall of 1979 a music student at the Folkwangschule organized the first (and only) Werdener Wagner Weihe. This event, which was held in a house in Goch, brought together a group of Gymnasiasten and students to listen to the entire Ring des Nibelungen (the Solti recording) in one night. All women had to wear dresses, all men a jacket and tie. During the listening we followed the text and music with scores and libretti, all of this by candlelight. The experience was, to say the least, intense, and I was hooked. Shortly thereafter I came across the Middle High German Nibelungenlied in a Hamburg bookshop and found myself entranced by the language. At the same time I checked out several books on the history of German at the local libraries, read them, understood much too little, but didn’t care. It was too interesting.

When I returned to Iowa in 1980 and began study at Iowa State in Ames, I immediately declared a German major and spent the next three years exploring German literature and culture while also getting my first training in formal linguistics (most of this in the English department as there was no linguistics program at the time). Especially James Dow’s readings of Grimm’s fairy tales has remained with me as has my introduction to Norwegian by Walter Morris. I also got my first training in teaching English as a foreign language.

After graduation in 1983 (top and bottom of my class in German...) a PAD exchange took me to Göppingen in south Germany for a year as a language assistant at the Mörike Gymnasium. During this time I spent a great deal of time frequenting local book shops, including Alfred Kümmerle’s, best know for his publication of German mediaevalist texts.

In 1984 I began graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin. As is usual, I took the full range of classes in German literature and culture but began to focus more and more on older Germanic and Indo-European linguistics. I was fortunate to find teachers of Hittite, Mycenaean Greek, and Middle Welsh. My main teachers were Edgar C. Polomé and Winfred P. Lehmann. Both scholars, although often radically different in their views on the history and nature of the Indo-Europeans and Germanic peoples, treated each other and their students with great respect and it was an honor to have learned from them. They will always be with me. In 1986-1987 I spent a year in Tübingen and studied Indo-European, Sanskrit, Avestan, Old Irish, Classical Armenian, and Swabian. Then back to Texas where I finished my dissertation on methodology of reconstructing proto-languages in 1992. I also graduated from high school in 1992 (my last year of high school I was in Germany and I hadn’t gotten around to dealing with the paperwork). In the meantime I had published my first articles on vowel epenthesis in Classical Armenian, Mycenaean medio-passive endings, and the problem of homosexuality in the Gothic translation of the New Testament. The job market in the early 1990’s was abysmal and I ended up spending the year after graduation living in Hof, Germany, taking long bike rides, revising my dissertation for publication, reading books, and writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper. In 1994 I found employment as a Lektor for English at the Katholische Universität in Eichstätt and spent the next three academic years teaching American English culture and language. I was very fortunate to have Alfred Bammesberger, a reknowned German Indo-Europeanist, in my department and benefitted much from my interactions with him. In 1996 I was offered a position at the University of Illinois and so returned to my roots. Since coming here I have taught a wide range of classes in historical linguistics but also have worked on developing a new class on current topics in the German media. I also spent a summer in Iceland at the instigation of Marianne Kalinke and while there met my wife, Siv. We now have three children and I am discovering the joys of coach pitch baseball and dance class. While here I have continued publishing on such topics as the velar nasal in runic writing, the efficiency of Linear B, and variation in gender in Germanic. This last topic was also the focus of a monograph on grammatical gender in Germanic that has just appeared.

My current focus in research is a study of stage models of reconstruction and the idea that Germanic represents a particularly archaic form of Indo-European.

Courses Taught

Herbert Knust, Professor Emeritus

Herbert KnustSelected publications include: