Stanley Insler, 1937-2019

« previous post | next post »

Stanley Insler died unexpectedly last night in Yale-New Haven hospital.  He was Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at Yale University, the Edward E. Salisbury Professor of Sanskrit and Comparative Philology in the Department of Classics.

Stanley was a scholar of ancient Indo-Iranian languages and texts.  His research focused on Sanskrit, Vedic, Avestan, Zarathustra and the history of Zoroastrianism, metrical texts of the Pali Buddhist Canon, Indian narrative literature, Silk Road Studies, and the Gāthās of Zarathustra.  Courses he taught included “Old Iranian:  Avestan” and “Vedic Poetry”.  Among his many publications are The Gāthās of Zarathustra, Acta Iranica 8 (Tehéran-Lìege:  Bibliothèque Pahlavi; Leiden: diffusion E. J. Brill, [1974] 1975); "The Love of Truth in Ancient Iran," Parsiana (September, 1989), 18-20; chapters on “Human Behavior and Good Thinking” and “Zarathustra’s Vision” in An Introduction to the Gathas of Zarathustra, ed. Dina G. McIntyre (Pittsburgh, 1989-90); "The Prakrit Ablative in -ahi." Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 72-73 (1991-92), 15-21; and "Rhythmic Effects in Pali Morphology," Die Sprache, 36 (1994), 70-93.

Stanley was born on June 23, 1937 in New York City and received his B.A. from Columbia College in 1957.  He did postgraduate studies at the University of Tübingen (1960-1962), carried out research at the University of Madras, and received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1963.  In the same year he became a member of the faculty at Yale where he remained until his retirement in 2012.  Stanley served as Chair of the Department of Linguistics from 1978-1989.

Stanley received fellowships from the Ford Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.  He was a member of Société Asiatique, the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, the Philological Society, Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft, the American Oriental Society (president 1997-98), and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, among others.

Stanley's translation of the Avestan Gāthās is widely regarded as the modern standard.  He made a conspicuous contribution to the study of the Gāthās by contesting the extreme ritualistic interpretation applied to them by earlier scholars.

In his The Gāthās of Zarathustra, Insler used his introductions to each of the hymns, among other matters, to emphasize the moral and ethical character of Zoroaster’s thought neglected in the ritualist approach. While it is true that all modern translators have made use of comparative materials from the Vedas, Insler, an outstanding Vedacist himself, probed the limits of what the ancient Indian texts can contribute.

Encyclopaedia Iranica

In Thomas Oberlies, Pāli: A Grammar of the Language of the Theravāda Tipiṭaka / With a Concordance to Pischel's Grammatik der Prakrit-Sprachen (Berlin, New York:  Walter de Gruyter, 2001), Stanley's insight into the mutual influence of phonological and morphological change in Pali is enshrined as "Insler's Law" (see here in the table of contents and on p. 26).  Slightly earlier (?), at any rate in the same year, "Inslers Gesetz" (Insler's Law) is also mentioned in the second edition of Oskar von Hinüber's "Das ältere Mittelindisch im Überblick" Vienna 2001 (Austrian Academy) § 168.

Upon learning of Stanley's passing, Don Ringe exclaimed, "This is quite a shock; Stanley was planning to attend the East Coast Indo-European Conference here in June.  He was a good friend, a good colleague, and a great Sanskritist and Indo-Iranianist."

Stephanie Jamison adds, "He was an inspiring — and exacting — teacher."

From my own perspective, Stanley was a kind, generous, and gracious man.

śāntātīte viśrāmyatām
शान्तातीते विश्राम्यताम्
Literally:  "May he rest in the place beyond the peaceful."
Loosely:  "May he rest in the peace that surpasseth all understanding."


"Stanley Insler", J. P. B. and S. W. J., Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 122, No. 2, Indic and Iranian Studies in Honor of Stanley Insler on His Sixty-Fifth Birthday (Apr. – Jun., 2002), pp. 211-212

The same issue includes a bibliography of Stanley Insler's works.

[H.t. Valerie Hansen; thanks to Whitney Cox, Ronald Davidson, and Deven Patel]


  1. Victor Mair said,

    January 5, 2019 @ 4:52 pm

    A graveside service will be held on Tuesday, January 8th at 11 AM in All Saints Cemetery, 700 Middletown Avenue, North Haven, CT, 06473, and a memorial service is planned for April or May 2019. See for further information.

  2. Michael Proctor said,

    January 5, 2019 @ 10:10 pm

    Rest in peace Stanley; you were a true original.

    What a loss: an astonishing mind, a generous scholar, and an inspirational teacher.

  3. Louis Goldstein said,

    January 6, 2019 @ 9:54 pm

    So sad. A wonderful, brilliant man.

  4. S.N.Sridhar said,

    January 6, 2019 @ 11:35 pm

    Rest in peace, Stanley, in the assurance that you will always be remembered as a great Indologist by a grateful community of scholars.

  5. Maria Pinango said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 8:01 am

    Very sad. A supportive and generous colleague and friend; with a great sense of humor. I will miss you.

  6. Sally Thomason said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 9:34 am

    This is terrible news. Stanley taught us second-year Sanskrit way back when Paul Tedesco was Yale's senior Sanskritist, and later he was a valued friend. I last saw him when I visited Yale in 2012 for a medal ceremony, and he seemed unchanged from my previous visit in the 1980s. He always seemed permanent, so this news is a shocker. And a sadness.

  7. David Marjanović said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 2:45 pm


    Four long vowels in a row! How fitting.

  8. Philip Rubin said,

    January 7, 2019 @ 7:17 pm

    It was truly a delight to have the opportunity to know and hang out with Stanley. He always brightened my day. He will be missed.

  9. Pedagogue said,

    January 8, 2019 @ 5:42 pm

    You will never be forgotten! Know that you are in our thoughts and prayers.
    Rest in peace Professor.

  10. Haun Saussy said,

    January 9, 2019 @ 8:19 am

    How sad to bid farewell to Stanley Insler! I sat in on his Sanskrit class for six weeks before other things crowded it out (namely, grading midterms– I should have reversed priorities then and there, but didn't). He was a sly, sometimes sarcastic, devotee of language and linguistics. He sent me in disgust to August Böckh when I made a modish reference to some French maître à penser. I didn't find there "everything you need to know," as Stanley promised, but quite a lot anyway. Ad astra!

  11. James Unger said,

    January 9, 2019 @ 10:19 am

    Stanley's introduction to Sanskrit double-hours course was the best course I ever took in all my university days: it was really an introduction to Indo-European comparative linguistics. I often played piano duets with him in this apartment in New Haven, the last time reading through the 4-hand version of Fracnk's symphony in d minor. He and Warren Cowgill made an inimitable pair, upholding the strong IE tradition of Yale Linguistics. I hope Yale honors his memory in some appropriate way—I will not soon forget his wit and erudition.

  12. Robert Ramsey said,

    January 9, 2019 @ 1:45 pm

    Insler's course on Sanskrit elicited both terrified dread and worshipful admiration from grad students in the Linguistics Department, and many of my fellow students remember it as the best course they ever took at Yale. Moreover, my own son James took the course as an undergraduate around 1998 because Insler was such a legend; and as a result he admired the man deeply. James stayed in touch with Insler for years after he graduated. My older colleague at Columbia Robert Austerlitz was also a long-time friend and admirer. I only regret not seeing Insler in more recent years myself after he retired.

RSS feed for comments on this post