Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov


The Department of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Languages and Cultures, together with the entire UCLA academic community, mourn the passing of Distinguished Research Professor Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov (August 21, 1929 — October 7, 2017). A world renowned linguist, Indo-Europeanist, anthropologist and literary scholar, he was a member of the UCLA community for the past quarter century. Over a considerably longer and astonishingly prolific academic career that began with his studies at Moscow State University in the 1950s, he established himself as an authority in fields as diverse as Indo-European studies, Balto-Slavic linguistics, machine translation, psycholinguistics, cultural anthropology, mathematical linguistics, semiotics and literary studies. There probably isn’t a Slavist or Indo-Europeanist alive today who has not engaged with his work in some fashion.

At the same time Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich occupied administrative positions of critical importance to our field, among them Chair of the Structural Typology Department of Moscow’s Institute of Slavic Studies, Director of the Library of Foreign Literature, Director of Moscow State University’s Institute of World Culture and Director the Russian Anthropological School of the Russian State University of the Humanities. It is a measure of the man and his times that he could be expelled from Moscow State University early in his career for defending Boris Pasternak’s art and Roman Jakobson’s scholarship, and forty years later be made a full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (as well as numerous other national academies, among them the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the British Academy). And perhaps most astonishingly, he was able to engage actively in academic, political and civic discourse until the very end of his life. His legendary erudition and prodigious memory made him an indispensable resource for scholars at UCLA and around the world. More than that, he represented a living link to the literary and scholarly world of the last half century, a man who conversed and collaborated with many of the greatest linguists, literary scholars, anthropologists, poets and politicians of the age, and generously shared their thoughts, opinions and reflections with his students and friends. Even in his waning months he conducted informal home lectures for his colleagues and admirers.

Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich was to have taught two seminars on recall in the Winter Quarter, 2018, at UCLA, but that was not to be. His passing leaves a great void in our lives. The documentary series “Vselennaia Vyacheslava Ivanova” (“The Universe of Vyacheslav Ivanov”), produced in Moscow on the occasion of his eighty-fifth birthday (and accessible on YouTube), shows a man who has confronted his own age, and the age in which he lived, and mastered both. In one of his poems he reveals what was perhaps the secret behind his energy and longevity: “Samoe vremia proshchat’sia, a xochetsia nachinat’ snachala,/ perechisliat’ nesdelannoe, na kotoroe ne khvataet minut” (Now is the time for parting, but I want to begin all over,/ To list the things I haven’t done, for which there is no time”). We are profoundly privileged to have had Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich in our midst for so many years.