Jassu Hertsmann

Petar Kehayov: There must be passion in doing science

Petar Kehayov, from Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, came to the University of Tartu to study linguistics as a young man in the 90s. Now a professor of Finnic languages, he’s field of interest is wide, he is interested in morphosyntactic change in severely endangered languages.

In Tartu, Petar Kehayov wrote his bachelor's, master's and doctoral theses. In 2016, he defended his habilitation dissertation "The Fate of Mood and Modality in Language Death: Evidence from Minor Finnic " at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, and then worked for several years in Germany at the Institute for East and Southeast European Studies in Regensburg and at the University of Munich.

Since February 2023, Petar Kehayov has been Professor of Finnic languages at the University of Tartu: he teaches Finnic languages and studies Karelian, Veps, Lude, and Ingrian.

"I had a good friend, Rogier Blokland, who is now a professor of Finno-Ugric languages at Uppsala University," recalls Kehayov. "He already knew as a student that he wanted to become a linguist, collected books on Finno-Ugric languages, talked about them, and so I became really interested. Mati Erelt, the supervisor of my Master's doctoral theses, was another important influence. Thanks to him, I began to understand what scientific thinking is all about, how one should study a language and what choices one should make in research."

Kehayov says, that a scientist does not 'save' languages, although he may try to do so – his job is to describe the process from the outside. The Finnic languages in Russia are ideal "laboratories" to study language extinction at the level of individual speaker.

Asked how a linguist spends his free time, Kehayov says he goes to the gym and hikes with his friends.

"In the meantime, I go to the pub, talk a lot with friends, walk the dog. But when it comes to hobbies ... I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, linguistics should be a bit of a hobby for life, so that you like it. On the other hand, you have to take it professionally, not as a hobby, but as a profession to contribute to society. It's a tricky thing - if you take linguistics too professionally, it ceases to be a hobby; there should still be a certain lightness of touch so that the passion for it doesn't fade."

Read the full article here. Interviewed by Kristel Algvere, Junior Research Fellow in Linguistics.

Interview in the Universitas Tartuensis Journal February 2024, nr 2518


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