Drew Burlingame

Ugaritic Indefinite Pronouns

What was the title of your dissertation and what was it about? 

Drew BurlingameThe dissertation was titled, “Ugaritic Indefinite Pronouns: Linguistic, Social, and Textual Perspectives,” and it treats indefinite pronouns—words like English anyone, anything, someone, something—in the Ugaritic language. I used linguistic models drawn from recent research in linguistic typology and formal semantics to provide a more detailed description of these pronouns, as well as an account of their importance for our understanding of genre and the history of scribal formation standing behind the texts produced at Ugarit in the Late Bronze Age (roughly 1250–1185 BCE). 

Where did you complete your doctoral studies? What drew you to this program/institution? 

I completed my doctoral studies in the department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. I was drawn to the program at Chicago in large part by the work of my advisor, Dennis Pardee, which I had read with growing interest and excitement in the years leading up to my decision to pursue further graduate studies. The department was also attractive because of its breadth—with multiple specialists in various fields of linguistic, historical, and archaeological study, it provides an environment in which you can pursue your research wherever it leads. When questions arise that are outside your area of specialization, someone else in the building will be able to point you in the right direction. 

What advice would you give somebody pursuing academia and struggling to decide what program would be the “best fit”? 

You want to find a program that has the right mix of people and curriculum, and both matter—go to a program that provides both excellent training across your discipline through rigorous course work as well as a faculty with whom you are eager to study and whose research programs interest you. When you join a graduate program, you are not there just to earn a degree—you are entering a research community that is pursuing specific objectives individually and collectively. Finding a place where your own interests fit in with those of your department will make your experience an enjoyable and enriching one. 

What does your dissertation and its topic mean for your future scholarship? How does it connect to the content of your classes and your program at Wheaton? 

In my opinion, the textual material recovered from the ancient city of Ugarit remains some of the most exciting and important material available for research. I plan to continue working on a variety of linguistic and historical projects related to these texts. At Wheaton, I teach Hebrew language and literature, with a focus on texts from the first millennium BCE to the beginning of our era (i.e., the Hebrew Bible, Hebrew inscriptions, Ben Sira, Qumran). My work with Ugaritic informs my study and teaching of Hebrew in a couple of ways. For one, Ugaritic and Hebrew are closely related languages, so insights gained in one can often shed new light on the other. But even more importantly is the fact that working with Ugaritic texts teaches you how to think about texts in the contexts of their production. The Ugaritic texts were found in controlled excavations, so we can look at how different texts in a given “archive” relate to one another and, not infrequently, we actually know a bit about the individuals they mention. Getting a closer look at the dynamics involved in scribal formation and textual production and organization “on the ground” helps us to think in fresh ways about what may have been going on in Judean scribal circles several centuries later.