The Department of Linguistics was established in 1953 by Prof. Hans Jakob Polotsky (1905-1991), a renowned Semiticist and Egyptologist, was dean of humanities between 1954-1959. The guiding principle driven by its founder and embraced by the Department was that linguistic generalizations can only be derived from empirically-based research and description of individual languages in their own terms combined with their historical background, areal connections and typological afﬁnities, and that the study of languages must be based on actual texts or speech events. The department provided, besides general introductory courses, instruction in Semitic (notably Ethiopic, Syriac and Neo-Semitic), Ancient Egyptian-Coptic of all periods, Indo-European (comparative, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Gothic, Slavic) and Turkic, as well as phonetic ﬁeld-work, with structural analysis and descriptive techniques integrated in the study of each special ﬁeld.
During the years 1967–1986 the Department was headed by Prof. Haiim B. Rosén (1922-1999), a renowed classicist, and a pioneer of the study of Israeli Hebrew. During the years 1986-1993 the Department was headed by the Coptologist and Celtologist Prof. Ariel Shisha-Halevy.
In 2008, as part of the general reform in the faculty, the Department of Linguistics incorporated as a separate section the generative linguistics program that had been part of the English department. The former Linguistics department now forms the Structural Track of the combined administrative unit of the Linguistics program.
Six of the teachers in the Linguistics Department have been awarded the Israel Prize, the state’s highest honor: Hans J. Polotsky (1966), Haiim B. Rosén (1978), Moshe Altbauer (1990), Gideon Goldenberg (1993), Olga Kapeliuk (2005) and Edit Doron (2016). Additionally, four teachers were or are members of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities - H.J. Polotsky, H.B. Rosén, G. Goldenberg, and A. Shisha-Halevy.
Hans Jacob Polotsky