Veteran linguist RE Asher, specialist in Dravidian languages, dies at 96

The British linguist and specialist in Dravidian languages Ronald Eaton Asher has passed away. He was 96.

Asher translated major works of Malayalam legend Vaikom Muhammed Basheer and other Malayalam writers into English.

His demise was informed by his son to Malayalam writer PP Sreekumar through an email on Wednesday. Asher died on 26 December, 2022.

Asher was a fellow of Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1964), a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1991), and an honorary fellow of the India‘s Sahitya Akademi.

After Asher received his Ph.D., he was offered two lectureships, at The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London and at the Renaissance French of the University College of North Staffordshire. He opted for SOAS and spent four years at the School’s Department of India, Pakistan, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) under the Department of Linguistics doing linguistic theoretical research in Tamil language.

Asher served as the President of International Association for Tamil Research from 1983 to 1990.

Asher was a visiting professor of Tamil at the University of Chicago (1961–62), of linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (1967), of Malayalam and Tamil at the Michigan State University (1968), of Doctor R. P. Sethu Pillai Silver Jubilee Endowment at the University of Madras (1968), of linguistics at the University of Minnesota (1969), of Collège de France, Paris (1970), of linguistic and International communication at the International Christian University, Tokyo (1994–95), and of 20th-century Malayalam Literature at the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala (1995–96).

Asher translated Malayalam novelist legend Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai’s 1947 published work Thottiyude Makan as Scavenger’s Son in 1975. He published Me Grandad’ad an Elephant: Three Stories of Muslim Life in South India in 1980 which collectively translated another legendary Malayalam writer Vaikom Muhammad Basheer’s three works; Balyakalasakhi (Childhood Friend, 1944), Ntuppuppakkoranendarnnu (My Grandad Had an Elephant, 1951), and Pathummayude Aadu (Pathumma’s Goat, 1959).