Michalis Setatos' website

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Biographical Information

Biographical Information

Michalis Setatos (1929-2017)

Dr. Michalis Setatos, Professor Emeritus at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and Member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Modern Greek Studies [Manolis Triandaphyllidis Foundation], was born in Thessaloniki in 1929 and passed away on July 3, 2017 in the same city.

He grew up in Thessaloniki and was educated there, at the Experimental School of the University of Thessaloniki, just like dozens of eminent figures of the city’s scientific, intellectual, artistic and business community: he graduated in 1947, together with another 18 schoolmates, including Dimitris Ν. Maronitis, whom he was to meet later at University as a fellow student and a colleague at the same Faculty and at the Institute for Modern Greek Studies. His high school literature teachers included the acclaimed writer and critic Yiorgos Themelis, and the devoted demoticists Konstantinos Botsoglou and Yiorgos Michalopoulos.

The year he graduated from high school, he enrolled himself at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, where he soon manifested his special interest in language and linguistics. His teachers included eminent scholars, such as Nikolaos Andriotis, Ioannis Th. Kakridis, Emmanuel Kriaras, Stilpon Kyriakidis, Michael Laskaris, Andreas Xygopoulos, Linos Ν. Politis, Agapitos Tsopanakis, etc. He graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy in 1951.

From 1959 to 1965 he took on scholarship a postgraduate course in France. In the early 1960s he also taught Greek at the University of Strasburg. His long stay in Paris (mainly) opened new horizons for him, as he was given the opportunity to delve deeper into linguistics, in terms of both diachronic and synchronic examination of language(s). His teachers included E. Benveniste, P. Chantraine, M. Lejeune and other distinguished linguists and philologists. In Paris, he also came into contact with discipline branches hitherto unknown in Greece (sociolinguistics, pragmatics, text linguistics, semiotics), and also with theories he later incorporated into his teaching practice. Finally, this fertile stay lay the foundation for broadening his extraordinary language competence, unique among Greek scholars, and fostered other parallel or relevant interests, such as literature, Oriental studies, cinema, etc., as well as his proverbial love for reading and books.

In 1965 he returned to Thessaloniki and prepared his PhD thesis at the Aristotle University, entitled The etymologically related semantic pairs of purist and demotic words in Standard Modern Greek [Τα ετυμολογικά σημασιολογικά ζεύγη λόγιων και δημοτικών λέξεων της κοινής νέας ελληνικής] (1969), supervised by Nikolaos Andriotis. In the meantime, he assisted his teacher, together with other fellow students, in compiling the second edition of the Etymological Dictionary of Standard Modern Greek [Ετυμολογικό λεξικό της κοινής νεοελληνικής] (Institute for Modern Greek Studies, 1967), and worked at the Linguistics Reading Room.

His academic career began in 1970: he was elected untenured and then (1975) tenured Professor of Linguistics at the Faculty of Philosophy of AUTh. Until 1995 he taught a wide range of courses, such as General Linguistics, Semantics, Text Linguistics, Semiotics, Indo-European Linguistics, Indo-European languages, Sanskrit, Semitic languages, etc. Thus, with a critical and methodical approach, he imparted to AUTh the most recent cutting-edge developments in European linguistics, adding from the very first decade of his teaching career at the University spectacular breadth and groundbreaking leaps to the subjects of this discipline. Semantics, Text Linguistics, and Semiotics represent scientific fields Greek scholars first came into contact with thanks to Michalis Setatos. He is therefore justifiably considered the founding father of modern linguistics in Greece by those who know the facts and are not content with the surface of things or the pursuit of self-promotion. The breadth and depth of his intellect and his knowledge, together with his selflessness and total lack of conceit, have led to the development of a robust Department of Linguistics with himself at the centre, which still investigates a large number of specialized scientific subjects.

Two allegedly different aspects of the study of language, i.e. synchronic and diachronic, were combined in a single individual and merged to shape what has eventually crystallized in the tradition of the Department of Linguistics of AUTh: the dilemma “synchrony or diachrony” exists in order to be ultimately transcended. The comprehensive study of language (and the full beauty of such a study) may only emerge if we take the challenge to respond to this dilemma cumulatively: synchrony and diachrony. On the other hand, his erudition was not limited to linguistics and literature, or to history, mythology, philosophy, or theory of science only (he was also a member of the Hellenic Semiotics Society, the Hellenic Society for Slavic Studies and other organizations for the study of Greek language and culture); it also encompassed sciences like modern physics and biology.

Michalis Setatos published numerous studies on the Greek language and other matters. The periodical publication Studies in the Greek language [Μελέτες για την Ελληνική Γλώσσα], in particular, containing the Proceedings of the Annual Meetings of the Department of Linguistics, School of Philology, AUTh features a paper of his in almost every issue. This was also the case with the Yearbooks of the Faculty of Philosophy, and later the School of Philology, as well as with other scholarly and/or philological/educational journals, such as Ελληνικά (where his first book reviews were published in 1966 and his first academic paper in 1967) and Φιλόλογος (he was a member of the Editorial Committee or content consultant until the end of his life).

He supervised dozens of dissertations covering most aspects of the language phenomenon: the compilation of a list thereof is already underway, in view of demonstrating how many younger researchers have benefited from the lessons learned from him and his expertise, as well as from the wide range of subjects he mastered.

Given the above, the Department of Linguistics, School of Philology, AUTh dedicated to his memory its 39th Annual Meeting (Thessaloniki, April 19-21, 2018). As the relevant Invitation reads: “Fully aware of the breadth of interests of late Michalis Setatos, we are inviting papers dealing with any thematic field in Linguistics.”