Whitney Desk

Did you know that the Language office plays host to a historic desk originally used by William Dwight Whitney? Brian Joseph (who has served LSA in many roles, including Centennial Committee chair, president, archivist, and Language editor) provided the full story: 

"The desk used to belong to William Dwight Whitney, a giant of American linguistics in the middle-to-late 19th century, spending most of his career at Yale and so is known (or at least has been known among us Language editors) as “the Whitney Desk”.  According to Bill Bright, who was the first editor to have the desk, George Lane, an Indo-Europeanist at the University of North Carolina in the middle of the 20th century, visited Whitney’s family farm in the 1960s (I’m not sure if by that was meant the Whitney homestead outside of Northampton, Mass. or Whitney’s house in New Haven) and asked the owner if there were any artifacts from Whitney’s time.  The farmer said “Oh, you mean the perfesser?” and directed Lane to the chicken coop where there was the desk, covered with chicken droppings.  Lane bought it for $10, had it refinished and upon his death gave it to the LSA, where it ended up in Bill Bright’s office (he became editor in 1966).  Bill passed it on to Sally Thomason and the “tradition” thus began of it moving into the hands/office of the Language editor, and from Sally then on to Mark Aronoff, from Mark to me, and from me to Greg.  Mark had a huge wooden crate built (something like 5 feet square) and it was shipped to me in that, showing up at the Language office one day about 6 months after I took over;  I added some books of Whitney’s  to place on top of the desk  and Hope Dawson added a photo of Whitney that we hung above the desk.

"This is one of those Victorian-style standing desks, which are now somewhat in vogue again, and rumor had it that Whitney wrote his famous Sanskrit Grammar standing at that desk (which made it particularly important to me as I teach Sanskrit and regularly use Whitney’s grammar).  But Stanley Insler of Yale said that Whitney's working desk was a much more elaborate contraption with swinging arms and shelves upon which rested various dictionaries and grammars he would consult while writing things.  But it was cool to have had the desk in my possession for 7 years nonetheless, as a bit of a connection with the great man himself."

Pirctured below are the outgoing Editor, Greg Carlson, with the incoming Editor, Andries Coetzee. The final picture below shows the 4th Editor of Language, Sally Thomason,  with the 8th Editor of Language.