Prof. Tom Hinnebusch
UCLA Linguistics Dept.
My main research focus is Swahili and related Bantu languages mostly from a comparative and historical perspective. For a long time I have been interested in questions concerning the classification of African languages and especially methodologies of classification; for example, I have recently explored the value of lexicostatistics in Comparative Bantu studies. I am currently amassing the data necessary to do a comparative/historical treatment of Southern Bantu languages akin to the Nurse and Hinnebusch study of a group of Northeastern Bantu languages. I also spend some of my time alotted for research on mastering Swahili classical poetry; here I have also been experimenting with ways in which the computer can be used to teach Swahili poetry in interesting, engaging ways.
My main teaching responsibility is Swahili. I either supervise or personally teach three years of Swahili courses (African Languages 1A-1B-1C; African Languages 2A-2B-2C; African Languages 103A-103B-103C). I also offer instruction in the language beyond the advanced level (African Languages 199 or African Languages 596). Every two years or so--when there is an interest--I offer a course on Comparative Bantu (African Languages 202); the focus of this course reflects the interests of the students.
I'm from Pittsburgh PA where I grew up and received my primary, secondary, and some postgraduate education. After spending four years in Maryknoll Seminary I decided neither the priesthood nor life as a missionary were for me. I left and began Swahili and African studies at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh where I received a M.A. in African Studies, thinking at the time that I would end up working for the federal government. But Duquesne needed a Swahili teacher and by default I was asked to stand in for someone who had not showed up from Kenya. What serendipty! So while teaching Swahili at Duquesne I decided I needed to know more about language and lingusitics and went to the University of Pittsburgh where I did a one-year MA in Linguistics (all pre-Chomskian), but it was enough to convince me that Swahili and linguistics would be a life-long career. The following year, 1965--I was married by then with our first child--my wife Claudia and I were in Tanzania where I worked in a mission-operated language school for three years supervising langauge instruction, writing teaching materials, and doing fieldwork on one of the local Bantu languages. Only in doing the latter did I discover I still didn't know enough about linguistics and I needed to study more. In 1968 I came to UCLA and studied with such giants as Bill Welmers, Talmy Givon, Sandra Thompson, and Vicky Fromkin and I've been here ever since, joining the faculty in 1973. I do get back to Africa on a regular basis. I did my dissertation research in Kenya in 1972/73, there were Bantu workshops in Ruanda in 1982 and 1984, and research in the Comoro Islands in 1983. I spent the summer of 1994 in Swaziland and South Africa attending a conference and exploring linkages on behalf of the African Studies Center. In 1989 and 1990 I took 15 students to Kenya and Tanzania to study Advanced Swahili. In 1996 I expect to spend three months in Tanzania teaching at the University of Dar es Salaam. My wife and I are now empty-nesters: our three grown children are now on their own--we hope!
And I do have another life besides linguistics. There's daily weedpicking and grubbing in my garden, birdwatching whenever I can find a free weekend, and some hiking and long-distance walking on somewhat rarer occasions. And I'm chief escort for Claudia's jaunts to performances at the Music Center and plays at the Mark Taper, Odyssy and other theatres.
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