Deceased February 17, 2019
Eric Pratt Hamp, born in London on Nov. 16, 1920, to William and Edith, immigrated to the United States in 1925 and was naturalized in 1947. He married Margot Faust in 1951 and had two children, Julijana and Alexander. After Amherst, he served as U.S. Lend Lease officer for South Africa (1942–46), U.S. Army (1946–47) then resumed studies, receiving an M.A. in 1948 and a Ph.D. in 1954, both from Harvard.
At Amherst, Eric was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. He worked to pay his way through Amherst and was a member of the crew and swim teams.
Eric took up a post at the University of Chicago in 1950, was promoted to professor of linguistics in 1962 and served as the Robert Maynard Hutchins Distinguished Service Professor of Linguistics from 1973 to 1991, emeritus upon retirement. He chaired his department from 1966 to 1969. He was a member of four departments at Chicago, was one of the most eminent scholars of linguistics and was a major figure in historical Indo-European linguistics. He championed studying living dialects, not just ancient texts. He was also a key figure in the study of Balkan and Slavic languages that were in danger of becoming extinct. His knowledge of many aspects of the world’s most marginal languages and dialects was due mainly to his pioneering fieldwork and brilliant analyses, carried out at the last historical moment before the speakers of these languages were co-opted into the modern world.
Eric was awarded six honorary degrees, of which one was from Amherst. He was a member of many academies and learned societies the world over.
He was a kind, patient man who was generous with his time and knowledge.
Rick Ward ’42 and Julie Hamp Love