Joshua T. Katz
Fellow: Awarded 2010
Field of Study: Classics
Competition: US & Canada
Born and raised in New York, Joshua T. Katz is a linguist by training, a classicist by profession, and a comparative philologist at heart. The recipient of degrees in linguistics from Yale (B.A. 1991), Oxford (M.Phil. 1993; British Marshall Scholar), and Harvard (Ph.D. 1998), he had the good fortune to be able to reinvent himself as a classicist at Princeton, where he has been since the start of his career in the spring of 1998, a few months before earning his doctorate. Now Professor of Classics, he has held such interesting positions of responsibility as Founding Director of the Behrman Undergraduate Society of Fellows (an initiative for Princeton’s leading humanistically inclined undergraduates), President of the campus chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, Senior Fellow of one of the residential colleges, Trustee of the Princeton University Press, and Faculty Columnist for the Daily Princetonian; he has also been Director of the Program in Linguistics.
Widely published in the languages, literatures, and cultures of the ancient world, from India to Ireland via Greece, Rome, and the Near East, he is interested above all in the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European and in etymology, which he views as part of the history of ideas. He prefers in both his research and his teaching to prowl around topics rather than pursue one single line of inquiry: Hesiodic belly-prophecy and Horatian self-fashioning; Basque badgers and Roman testicles; the phonology of Tocharian monosyllables and the morphological peculiarities of Gothic pronouns; hieroglyphic Egyptian puns and modern English slang; etc. Recent articles have uncovered a striking example of “magical vowels” in Cicero; proposed a novel explanation for the form of the pluperfect in Archaic Greek; refined a phonological rule in Hittite; and taken a fragmentary verse of the 7th-century B.C. lyric poet Archilochus about blind eels as a launching point for insights into Anatolian, Celtic, and Greek mythology. Among the organizations from which he has received awards and fellowships are the American Council of Learned Societies, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Study, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Science Foundation; he is especially pleased to have won, at Princeton, both the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching and the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award.
One of his current preoccupations is wordplay, whose theory and practice across time and space he has been investigating — also in the classroom: he learned much from teaching a raucous freshman seminar in the fall of 2009 called “Wordplay: A Wry Plod from Babel to Scrabble” — and will pursue further in the coming Guggenheim year. Besides the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, he wishes to express his gratitude to the Loeb Classical Library Foundation and to All Souls College, Oxford, which has appointed him to a Visiting Fellowship in Michaelmas term 2010.
He is delighted that both his father and his Doktorvater are Guggenheim Fellows: Thomas J. Katz (Chemistry 1967) and Calvert Watkins (Linguistics 1991).
Profile photograph by Denise Applewhite, Office of Communications, Princeton University.