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John Dyneley Prince (April 17, 1868 – October 11, 1945) was an Americanmarker linguist, diplomat, and politician. He was a professor at New York Universitymarker and Columbia University, minister to Denmarkmarker and Yugoslavia, and leader of both houses of the New Jersey Legislature.

Early life

Prince was born in New York Citymarker in 1868, the son of John Dyneley and Anna Maria (Morris) Prince. He was the grandson of John Dyneley and Mary (Travers) Prince, and of Thomas H. and Mary (Johnson) Morris. His great-grandfather was Reverdy Johnson, United States Senator from Marylandmarker who also served as United States Attorney General. He attended Columbia Grammar School.

Prince had a strong interest in foreign languages as a child, acquiring basic skills in speaking the Romani and Shelta languages by the age of 12, after reading Charles Godfrey Leland's ethnographic accounts of the Gypsies. As retold in his 1939 memoir Fragments from Babel, he ran away with another boy from their families in New York to a gypsy camp near Newark, New Jerseymarker, where they spent three days there, and were accepted because of his proficiency in their language. He also learned Welsh and Turkish in his youth.

Academic career

Prince attended Columbia University, graduating with a B.A. in 1888. He represented Columbia on the University of Pennsylvaniamarker's Babylonianmarker expedition, where Sultan Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire heard of his language skills and made him an honorary captain of the troops that protected the expedition, after conversing with Prince in Turkish. He then studied Semitic languages at University of Berlinmarker from 1888 to 1889 and received his Ph.D from Johns Hopkins University in 1892. He was professor of Semitic languages at New York Universitymarker from 1892 to 1902 and dean of its Graduate School from 1895 to 1902.

Prince served as a professor of Semitic languages on the faculty of Columbia University from 1902 to 1915, when he was named professor of Slavonic languages at Columbia from 1915 to 1921 and again from 1933 to 1935, whereupon he was named professor of East European languages from 1935 to 1937.

Political career

Prince married Adeline E. Loomis, daughter of Dr. Alfred L. Loomis, on October 5, 1889, and the two moved to Ringwood Manormarker in Passaic Countymarker in 1891. Their only child, John Dyneley Prince, Jr., was born that year.

Prince entered New Jersey politics, using his language skills to reach out to various ethnic groups of constituents in their native tongues. He was a Republican member of the New Jersey General Assembly from 1906 to 1909, serving as Speaker of the Assembly in his final year. From 1910 to 1913 he served in the New Jersey Senate representing Passaic County, and was President of the Senate in 1912, in which role he served as Acting Governor while Governor Woodrow Wilson's was out of state.

While serving as Acting Governor, Prince found an anonymous seventeenth-century manuscript in the state archives containing a list of Delaware-based trade jargon. Prince analyzed the word list in a 1912 article in American Anthropologist entitled "An Ancient New Jersey Indian Jargon."

Diplomatic career

Prince served as president of the New Jersey Civil Service Commission from 1917 to 1921, when he was chosen by Warren G. Harding to be Minister to Denmarkmarker. In 1926, Calvin Coolidge appointed him Minister to the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. He continued to serve as ambassador after the nation was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslaviamarker in 1929. He served until 1932, after which time he returned to his professorship at Columbia, retiring in 1937.

Prince died of a heart ailment at his Manhattanmarker home in 1945 at the age of 77.


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