Joseph Eska

The Office of the Vice President for Research recognizes Joseph Eska, a professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for taking sounds and inscriptions that are unintelligible and making them intelligible to the world.

Words are his domain.

A linguist interested in the ways language changes over time and the ways one change often triggers another, Eska focuses most of his work on the Celtic languages. However, he has done a considerable amount of work on Northwest Native American and Australian aboriginal languages.

He was the first to attempt a full analysis of the language and content of an 11-line Gaulish inscription discovered in 1997 during excavations at Ch teaubleau, a village east of Paris.

Gaulishis an ancient Celtic language that was spoken in parts of Europe. The inscription, dated on archeological grounds to 300-350 AD, is important from the linguistic point of view because of its relatively late date and its northern location.

Eska traveled to the site to inspect the inscription in person and attempt to translate the difficult Roman cursive script in which it is written.

Eska became chair of the Department of English in August 2011. He is interested in all aspects of the study of human language. Words are his domain. In particular, he studies the sound system, word formation, syntax, and other attributes of language with regard to how they change over time and how a change in one component of a grammar can trigger a change in another.

Eska works with data from many languages, but does most of his research on Celtic, Germanic, Native American, and Australian languages, and Latin and Greek.

In his book, “Historical Linguistics: Toward a 21st Century Reintegration,” co-authored with Don Ringe, Eska explored the nature of human language and the sources of language change in broad terms.

By focusing on different types of language change from a contemporary viewpoint, he addressed the problems inherent in comparison and the importance of blending historical and contemporary linguistics.

He has published more than 70 articles and book chapters, and edited three books, including one that provided perspective on the intimate relationship of the study of law and the study of literature in Celtic studies.

His graduate-level courses usually focus upon the interrelationships between linguistic and cultural behavior.

He was awarded the Excellence in Research and Creative Scholarship Award by the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and his department also received a University Exemplary Department or Program Award for achievements to improve student learning.


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The goals of the Scholar of the Week are to recognize individuals while also telling people about research and scholarly activities at the university.

Recognition is based on research and/or scholarship.

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Please provide a sentence describing the research, scholarship, or creative work in non-technical, generally accessible language. A second sentence with an example or application is helpful.

  • Send nominations to: Srinath Ekkad, Associate Vice President for Research Programs, Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation.