19 February 2020
Savitri Sperl (Trinidad, 10 October 1952 — London, 15 February 2020)
It is with great sadness that the department has learnt of the untimely death of Savitri Sperl on Saturday, 15 February 2020. We send our heartfelt condolences to her husband, Professor Stefan Sperl and his family.
A valued member of the Arabic teaching team, Savi taught Arabic at various levels for more than a decade. She brought the tremendous warmth of her personality to those around her, especially in class. Inspiring to students and colleagues alike, she was just as happy to be a student, not least in her own classroom.
Savi was brought up in Trinidad, as the youngest of nine children of an Indian family which placed great emphasis on the value of learning. She came to Edinburgh University to study Spanish and French and so started her life-long devotion to languages. She studied Hindi while completing a Masters in Linguistics at York. Her life changed in the Reading Room of the British Library where she met her future husband, then completing his PhD at SOAS, and she soon found herself in Egypt and the Sudan where Stefan was working for the UNCHR. Once back in the UK when Stefan became a lecturer at SOAS, Savi became an accomplished Arabist, delighting everyone who taught her and completing a BA and an MA in Arabic, while also immersing herself in other languages such as Persian, Urdu and Turkish.
Savi was just as skilled and passionate as a cook. Above all she loved sharing her skills and passions with others, particularly in the happy environment of her own kitchen. As one of her colleagues once said: “With Savi languages and food go hand in hand. She is a genius at both and her enthusiasm is irresistible.”
Savi sparkled. She could lighten a classroom or a meal with her sense of fun and outrageous multilingual puns. Her warm laugh has been a welcome sound in SOAS’s corridors and will continue to echo there. She will be sorely missed.
“Halt and let us weep for the memory of the beloved … Savi”
Qifâ nabki min dhikrâ ḥabībin wa Savitri
قفا نبك من ذکری حبیب و سوتری
Stefan and Markus have been very touched by all the expressions of kindness and support they have received at this difficult time.