Rejection letters, correspondence, and miscellanea from the otherwise empty annals of the Journal of Universal Rejection.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Spotlight on Associate Editor: Ghil'ad Zuckermann

Biographical sketch for Dr. Ghil'ad Zuckermann:

Ghil'ad Zuckermann --- a.k.a. Sir Galahad Sugarman, Prof. Giladavant Zuckerman, Dr Gillard Zukerman, Lord Gilly Sugar-Daddy, Mr Jihad Zimmermann, or simply Giladiator Superman --- is Professor of Linguistics, and Endangered Languages Chair at the University of Adelaide. So endangered that he is the only such chair in Australia.

After his recent public lecture on language, religion and power, he was accused of Marxism, to which he retorted that he did indeed have a penchant for Marxist paraprosdokians. "She got her looks from her father, he is a plastic surgeon", as the great Groucho used to say. When I met her, I felt I had known her from previous life. Two weeks later I understood why I had not called her for 1,750 years...

Professor Zuckermann holds an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Fellowship, which means that his official role is to un-cover and dis-cover but not to dis-appoint. He is the founder of revival linguistics, and expert in contact linguistics, lexicology, endangered tongues, Jewish and Israeli society, and the study of language, culture and identity. Although he is based in the 'Lucky' Country, he spends several months per annum in large countries such as the Promised Land, and in small countries such as the Middle Kingdom, where he serves as Distinguished Visiting Professor and 'Oriental Scholar' Professorial Fellow at Shanghai International Studies University.

Professor Zuckermann is Jewish and mindful of the fact that six Jews have changed the way we perceive the world: Moses said "the Law is everything!", Jesus said "Love is everything!", Marx said "Money is everything!", Freud said "Sex is everything!", Zuckerberg said "Social networking is everything", Einstein said "Everything is relative!". Some people see the world in B&W (black-and-white), but for Zuckermann, Judaism is all about on the other hand. In the famous play Fiddler on the Roof, after Tevye's daughter Hodel and her radical student lover Perchik announce their engagement, Tevye, a religious Jew opposed to the match, memorably reckons: "He loves her. Love, it's a new style ... On the other hand, our old ways were once new, weren't they? On the other hand, they decided without parents, without a matchmaker! On the other hand, did Adam and Eve have a matchmaker? Well, yes they did. And it seems these two have the same matchmaker!" (cf. Stein 1964: 113).

Besides his indefatigable contributions to the Journal of Universal Rejection, Professor Zuckermann serves as Editorial Board member of the Journal of Language Contact. Just like John Burdon Sanderson Haldane (1963: 464), Professor Zuckermann supposes that "the process of acceptance will pass through the usual four stages: 1. This is worthless nonsense. 2. This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view. 3. This is true, but quite unimportant. 4. I always said so."

At the age of 16, he spread his wings and went abroad to study at the United World College (UWC) of the Adriatic (Collegio del Mondo Unito dell'Adriatico, Duino, Trieste). Then he came home to roost, performing several years of military service. Thereafter he was selected for the Adi Lautman Interdisciplinary Programme for Outstanding Students of Tel Aviv University, where he studied many many things, for example philosophy, psychology, classics, literature, law and mathematics, specializing in linguistics and receiving his M.A. (summa cum laude) from the Department of Linguistics in 1997.

Professor Zuckermann is a master at turning a rejection into a motivating force. If you want him to succeed, reject him! A well-meaning teacher advised the young Zuckermann not to bother with Oxbridge, so he promptly went to England and ended up holding doctorates from both Oxford and Cambridge (the latter one being titular). His best advice to his students is therefore always to ignore your professor's best advice.

As Scatcherd European Scholar of the University of Oxford and Denise Skinner Graduate Scholar of St Hugh's College, Oxford, he gained his D.Phil. (Oxon.) in 2000. In 2000-2004 he was Gulbenkian Research Fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge. There he learned a lot about Laurence of Arabia from Winston's lovely daughter Mary Soames, who always wanted to sit near Zuckermann on High Table dinner because he was the only fellow to tell her the truth about life at Churchill College. At Churchill he also met Margaret Thatcher, who asked him whether he was related to Solly Zuckerman, to which he replied that he might have indeed been a distant relative. Or not. George Steiner welcomed Zuckermann to College by telling him: "Israel has great future. In New York!" Upon arrival at Churchill, Zuckermann was introduced to a fellow he understood to be "Tony, Jewish" and discussed various Jewish themes with him on a weekly basis, only to find out three months later that he was actually "Tony Hewish", a Nobel laureate in physics. Zuckermann enjoyed discussing IDF with yet another Nobel laureate: Bob Edwards (IVF).

Professor Zuckermann has published in various languages, e.g. English, Israeli ('Ivrit'), Italian, Yiddish, Spanish, German, Russian and Chinese. He recently translated --- successfully --- the following into Esperanto: The Frenchman says "I'm tired and thirsty, I must have wine!" The German says "I'm tired and thirsty, I must have beer!" The Jew says "I'm tired and thirsty, I must have diabetes!". Mi devas havi vinon / bieron / diabeton!

His revolutionary bestseller book Israelit Safa Yafa (Israeli - A Beautiful Language) (ISBN: 978-965-13-1963-1)  was published in 2008 by Am Oved (Tel Aviv) and has multiplied the number of Zuckermann's admirers and enemies by approx. 100,000. Several days before the publication of this book, Zuckermann finally received its cover. Ignoring the idiom "don't judge a book by its cover", he looked at it and darkness was made in his eyes: Whereas the title of the book was israelit safa yafa, i.e. ISRAELI - A Beautiful Language (challenging and modelled upon the old Zionist slogan ivrit safa yafa "Hebrew - A Beautiful Language"), the last sentence on the back cover was "this is his first book in HEBREW"! Worriedly, he called Am Oved and was given an ultimatum: either we leave it as "this is his first book in Hebrew" or change it to "this is his first book in Israeli and his last book at Am Oved"! Eventually, the compromise was "this is his first book published in Israel". 

Professor Zuckermann then mumbled to himself: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet", says Juliet to Romeo (or Yael to Ram, as per a fin-de-siècle translation to "Modern Hebrew") in a scene by the famous playwright referred to by former Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi as "Sheikh Zubeir". There are cases in which the name is extremely important because it determines the way people perceive the thing it stands for. Just as thought influences language, language can shape thought. It was Confucius who said 2,500 years ago, around the time when the Old Testament was written, 必也正名乎 Bi Ye Zheng Ming Hu (the first thing one has to do is to rectify names!) (Analects, Book 13, Verse 3).

Zuckermann's book Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew (ISBN: 1-4039-1723-X)  came out with Palgrave Macmillan in 2003. The Israeli version of Tingo, to which he contributed three chapters, was published by Keren Publishing House in 2011. He is currently preparing ten further volumes.

Dr Zuckermann is what one might call peripatetic (if you like him), or peri-patHetic (if you don't). He has taught various undergraduate and graduate courses in four continents, e.g. at the University of Cambridge (Faculty of Oriental Studies, now known as the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies), National University of Singapore, University of Miami, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Pavol Jozef Safarik University (Kosice, Slovakia), The University of Queensland (2006-2010), and Shanghai International Studies University.

He has been research fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation Study and Conference Center (Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio, Italy), Research Centre for Linguistic Typology (RCLT) (Institute for Advanced Study, La Trobe University), Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (University of Texas at Austin) and Kokuritu Kokugo Kenkyuuzyo (National Language Research Institute, Tokyo). He has held a range of fellowships and scholarships, including a Project 211 Professorial Fellowship (China), "Shanghai Oriental Scholar" Professorial Fellowship, British Academy Research Grant, Memorial Foundation of Jewish Culture Postdoctoral Fellowship, Harold Hyam Wingate Scholarship, British Chevening Scholarship and Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) Scholarship.

In his free time, Dr Zuckermann is consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), Oxford University Press (OUP), Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies (University of Miami), and Leyvik House, The Israeli Center for Yiddish Culture, Tel Aviv. He is Editorial Board Member of The Journal of Language Contact, Mizrekh: Jewish Studies in the Far East, The Israeli Journal of Humor Research; Scientific Committee Member of Societas Linguistica Europaea (SLE); Academic Committee Member of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA); Thought Leader of Creativity Australia, Melbourne; and Advisory Board Member of Gifted Speech.

He has been referee for Yale University Press (YUP), Cambridge University Press (CUP), Languages in Contrast, Australian Journal of Linguistics, Balshanut Ivrit (Hebrew Linguistics), Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, International Journal of Lexicography, CamLing (Conference in Language Research, University of Cambridge), Leverhulme Trust, Israel Science Foundation (ISF), Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP), and the Academic Research Fund of Singapore's National Institute of Education (NIE). In 2008 he was President of the Jury of the BIFF Interfaith Award for Promoting Humanitarian Values, Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF).

He has delivered hundreds of keynote speeches and plenary conference papers, has been an invited speaker on various TV programmes. For example, he recently spent many lovely hours with Stephen Fry in Rishon LeZion (Israel) discussing the Hebrew revival and the emergence of Israeli for Fry's Planet Word (BBC). Here is a video clip: The Politics of Language

In 1993-6 Professor Zuckermann taught preparatory courses for various psychometric examinations (e.g. GMAT) at Kidum Institute, Tel Aviv, and co-authored four books in this field. Other interests include opera (in particular Puccini, Verdi, Donizetti and Mozart), film, photography, constrained literature, poetry, paleo-anthropology and human migration, cultural immersion through travel, and world politics.

Further shameless particulars can be found at http://www.zuckermann.org/


  1. Zucchi,

    Tu sei un genio.

  2. Zuckermann's loyal Oxonian admirersNovember 29, 2011 at 6:45 AM

    Sir Galahad,

    You are as remarkable as ever. We love you and shall recommend you in due course to neither CMG (Call Me God) nor KCMG (Kindly Call Me God) but rather GCMG (God Calls Me God)...

    Your loyal Oxonian admirers

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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