Edgar C. Polomé

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Edgar Charles Polomé
Edgar C. Polomé.jpg
Born(1920-07-31)July 31, 1920
Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, Brussels, Belgium
DiedMarch 11, 2000(2000-03-11) (aged 79)
Houston, Texas, United States
NationalityBelgian, American
Known forResearch on Indo-European and Germanic languages and culture
Scientific career
FieldsPhilology, linguistics, religious studies, anthropology

Edgar Charles Polomé (31 July 1920 – 11 March 2000) was a Belgian-born American university professor and polymath. He was for decades Professor of Comparative Religions and Languages at the University of Texas.

Fluent in French, Dutch, German, Swahili, Italian, Swedish and Danish, Polomé taught Sanskrit, Pali, Hittite, Avestan, Old Persian and Gothic, the comparative grammar of Greek, Latin, Germanic and Bantu, and the comparative religions of these cultures.[1] Polomé specialized in Indo-European and Germanic languages and culture, Bantu linguistics, sociolinguistics, and comparative religion. He was considered one of the world's leading experts in all of these fields.[2]

Early life[edit]

Edgar Charles Polomé was born in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, a suburb of Brussels, Belgium, on 31 July 1920. He was the only child of Marcel Félicien Polomé and Berthe Henry.[3] His father was a Walloon, and his mother was Flemish, and Polomé thus grew up in a multilingual family.[2]

Although his primary education was in Dutch, Polomé enrolled at Athénée Royal de Koekelberg, a French-medium secondary school, where he acquired proficiency in Latin, Greek, German and English, graduating at the top of his class.[2]

After winning the Belgium National Scholarship, Polomé entered the Free University of Brussels. Although intending to study Classics, he chose Germanic philology instead. Passing his freshman exams with the highest distinction, Polomé was conscripted into the Belgian Armed Forces during the Battle of Belgium. He was able to resume his studies until the German occupiers closed the University in 1942. He completed his master's degree at the University of Louvain in 1943, working closely with Étienne Lamotte on the study of Sanskrit. During this time Polomé developed a lifelong interest in comparative religion]]s and cultures.[2]

After the end of World War II in Europe, Polomé joined the United States Army as an interpreter. He combined his work for the Americans with the study of Celtic. Returning to Beligum Polomé re-enrolled at the University of Brussels, completing his Ph.D in Germanic philology in 1949 with the highest distinction. His Ph.D thesis was on the laryngeal theory of Indo-European linguistics, and was supervised by Adolphe Van Loey. During his research for the dissertion, Polomé came in contact with the foremost scholars on Indo-European linguistics of the day, including Julius Pokorny, Georges Dumézil, Émile Benveniste, Jerzy Kuryłowicz and Winfred P. Lehmann.[2]

Early career[edit]

From 1942 to 1956, Polomé taught Germanic languages on a non-regular basis at the Athénée Adolphe Max in Brussels. From 1954 to 1956 he taught Dutch at the Belgian Broadcasting Corporation. At this time, Polomé was invited to join the faculty of the Université Officielle du Congo Belge et du Ruanda-Burundi in Élisabethville. Here he established a Department of Linguistics. The Department was a great success and pioneering research was conducted on the Bantu languages. It was the most advanced of its kind in Africa at the time.[4]

Polomé's work on the Bantu languages while based in Africa was of as great importance as his work on the Indo-European languages. He published a number of works on Swahili during this time, deriving upon theories from modern sociolinguistics.[2]

Career in the United States[edit]

He was unbelievable. He knew more than anybody that i've ever met in terms of culture, languages and religions. My career is completely his doing.[4]

— Joseph C. Salmons, Professor of Language Sciences at University of Wisconsin–Madison

With the end of Belgian Congo in 1960, Polomé was invited by Winfred P. Lehmann at the University of Texas at Austin to teach for one semester as a visiting professor in the absence of Werner Winter. He was quickly hired as a tenured professor at the Department of Germanic Languges, which was also devoted to topics of general and non-Germanic interest. At the University he taught courses in a number of departments, including anthropology, classics, historical linguistics, sociolinguistics, the history of religion, and comparative religions.[5] His teaching was particularly devoted to Indo-European and Germanic studies.[4] Polomé was a director of the Center for Asian Studies from 1962 to 1972. He became an American citizen in 1966. Polomé was granted a Fulbright professorship in Kiel, Germany in 1968.

Polomé was a member of the American Oriental Society, the Association for Asian Studies, African Studies Association, Linguistics Society of America, the American Anthropological Association, the Modern Language Association of America, Société de Linguistique de Paris,and theIndogermanische Gesellschaft.[1]

Along with Lehmann, Polomé was instrumental in the creation of the Department of Linguistics and the Department of Oriental and African Languages and Literature (DOALL), which was established in 1969 with Polomé as Chairman (1969-1976). In 1969-1970 he went to Tanzania with a grant from the Ford Foundation as a visiting professor to survey languages. Based at the University of Dar es Salaam, Polomé also helped improve the bachelor’s and master’s programs in linguistics at the University of Nairobi during this period.[2]

From 1972 to 1978, he was Chairman of the Language Committee of the American Institute of Indian Studies. In 1990 he organized an international seminar "Perspectives on the Ancient Indo-European World", which was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.[2]

Later life[edit]

Polomé was paralyzed by a stroke in 1993, and retired as Professor Emeritus in 1997. He nevertheless remaind a prolific author and editor. Throughout his career, Polomé wrote hundreds of articles and reviews for scholarly journals. He edited and wrote the book chronicle for the Journal of Indo-European Studies from 1973 until his death. His works are still used in many universities, and many of his students have went one to become leading scholars in their fields.[2]

Polomé died in Houston on March 11, 2000. He was survived by his wife Sharon, his son Andre, his daughter Monique, two grandchildren, and a great-grandchild. Upon his death, Polomé was remembered by former colleagues and students as the most learned person they had ever met.[a]

Personal life[edit]

Polomé married Julia Josephine Schwindt in on July 22, 1944,[1][3] who was the mother of his two children, Dr. Andre Polomé and Monique Polomé Ellsworth. Julia passed away on May 27, 1975. On 11 July 1980 Polomé married Barbara Elizabeth Baker Harris. The marriage ended in a divorce, after which Polomé married his third wife Sharon.[2]


  • Old Norse Literature and Mythology (1969)
  • Language in Tanzania (1980)
  • Language, Society and Paleoculture (1982)
  • The Indo-Europeans in the Fourth and Third Millennia B.C. (1982)
  • Essays on Germanic Religion (1989)
  • Research Guide to Language Change (1990)
  • Reconstructing Languages and Cultures (1992)
  • Indo-European Religion after Dumézil (1996)
  • Miscellanea Indo-Europea (1999)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "He was unbelievable. He knew more than anybody that i've ever met in terms of culture, languages and religions... My career is completely his doing."[4]



  • Jazayery, Mohammad Ali; Winter, Werner (2010). Languages and Cultures: Studies in Honor of Edgar C. Polomé. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 9783110864359.
  • Louden, Mark L.; Justus, Carol F.; King, Robert D. (Fall 2000). "In Memoriam: Edgar Charles Polomé" (PDF). American Journal of Germanic Linguistics. Cambridge University Press. 12 (2): 181–186. doi:10.1017/S1040820700002675. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  • "Edgar Charles Polomé" (PDF). Austin American-Statesman. March 11, 2000. Retrieved January 22, 2020.
  • "Edgar C. Polomé" (PDF). University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  • "Edgar (Ghislain) C(harles) Polome". Gale Literature: Contemporary Authors. Gale. May 6, 2001. Retrieved January 29, 2020.

External links[edit]