CANMORE — Diving deep into the history of language, a retired professor has continued to follow his passion, publishing a book at the age of 87.
Purushottam Patel hails from India where he found his love of language at an early age. Patel said he was drawn to linguistics because he was interested in how language is organized by the brain.
He spent four and a half years studying in English at the M.S. University of Baroda. From there he moved on to the United States and Canada to pursue the study of linguistics.
If he had remained in India, Patel said, he was on track to become an important administrator like vice-chancellor. However, the pull towards linguistics and research was too strong and Patel set off down an academic path that sent him travelling around the world landing first in the United States where he lived briefly in New York City.
However, soon after arriving in America, a new linguistics program was launched at the University of Alberta and Patel and his family packed up their things and took off for Canada.
“It was the right thing,” Patel said. “We got on the Greyhound Bus.”
He arrived in Edmonton in the early 1970s with his wife and his two-year-old son Kent.
“Those were the most wonderful three years of graduate study,” Patel said.
When he finished his doctorate program, Patel found a job at the University of Ottawa.
He went on to spend 28 years researching and teaching linguistics at the university, before returning to the West.
“If you are in academic life rising from assistant professor to associate professor to full professor you have to not only research, but publish so that the world in your field knows about it,” Patel said.
He now enjoys a life of retirement and returned to Alberta in 2004 to live in Canmore.
Not one to stop using his mind, Patel continued to research linguistics while drinking in the view of the mountains from Origin at Spring Creek.
“I’m very happy here,” Patel said, describing his life in Canmore. “This is a good place for me.”
Patel recently published his latest book Building a Theory of Indic Brāhmī Writing System: Problems and Prospects.
The book is the culmination of more than 40 years of committed research and exploration based on a life centred on academic pursuits in linguistics, a personal passion for Patel.
The book explores a historic script that dates back to ancient India.
“It [Brāhmī] is linguistically very sophisticated,” Patel said. “It’s very modern – ancient India gave birth to linguistics.”
The book builds on information Patel has amassed since the 1970s and tackles the potential of developing a theory of the Brāhmī writing system that dates back to some time around the sixth century BCE or earlier.
Patel’s book serves as a collection of the research and thinking in linguistics, epigraphy and archaeology in regards to the Indic Brāhmī writing system.
“For some reason, I was interested in ancient India,” Patel said. “Then I got into this.”