On the evening of Tuesday, April 6, Prof. Dr. Pieter Muysken passed away after a short and cruel battle with an incurable and very aggressive cancer. Pieter Muysken was one of the most prolific, but also one of the kindest linguists of our time. Born into an expatriate Dutch family in Oruro, Bolivia, his first languages were Quechua, Spanish and Dutch.
He studied at Yale University and the University of Amsterdam, where he defended his thesis on the verb phrase of Ecuadorian Quechua in 1977. He became full professor of General Linguistics at the University of Amsterdam, then at the University of Leiden and later at Radboud University in Nijmegen. Pieter was exceptionally intelligent. Through hundreds of publications and numerous students from various countries, he advanced the field of modern linguistics while training of students across a wide variety of disciplines.
Pieter Muysken made ground-breaking and influential contributions to generative linguistics, historical linguistics, language contact studies, areal linguistics, bilingualism, code-switching, creole, pidgins and mixed languages, Andean and Amazonian languages, and other areas, including the study of early sources on creole and Andean languages. He won several prestigious international awards, including the Spinoza Prize in 1998, which is the highest scientific award in the Netherlands. Typical of his generosity he used the prize money to support students and research projects, also in Brazil. Pieter was honest, generous and amiable. Averse to elitism and arrogance, he was always excited and willing to help others with ideas and solutions, both on a professional and a personal level. Much more than a colleague, he was a great friend and an exemplary man.
Pieter Muysken’s departure is an immeasurable loss, but his scientific legacy and example remains with us. “There are men who struggle for a day and they are good. / There are men who struggle for a year and they are better. / There are men who struggle many years, and they are better still. / But there are those who struggle all their lives: These are the indispensable ones.” (Bertolt Brecht). Pieter Muysken was, in his lifetime, one of “the indispensable ones.” Only those who had the privilege of knowing him truly understand. We can only hope to follow his example.