Archive for Obituaries

R.I.P. Emmon Bach

Emmon Bach died at home in Oxford on November 28 of pneumonia-induced sudden respiratory failure. Emmon was born on June 12, 1929, in Kumamoto, Japan, the youngest of six children of Danish missionary parents Ditlev Gotthard Monrad Bach and Ellen Sigrid Bach who moved with their family from Japan to the U.S. in 1941, where he grew up in Fresno and Boulder. He did his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Chicago, with a Ph.D. in Germanic Studies in 1959; his dissertation was Patterns of Syntax in Hoelderlin’s Poems. He taught at the University of Texas from 1959 to 1972, first in the German Department and then in Linguistics, then at Queens College and the Graduate Center of CUNY in 1972–73. From 1973 until his retirement in 1992 he was Professor of Linguistics, and then Sapir Professor of Linguistics, at UMass Amherst, where he served as Department Head from 1977 until 1985. Starting a few years after his retirement from UMass, he held an appointment as a Professorial Research Associate at SOAS (University of London), where he taught semantics and field methods. And in 2007 he became affiliated with Oxford University, where he gave graduate lectures in Semantics and participated in the Syntax Working Group.

He was President of the Linguistic Society of America in 1996 and President of SSILA, the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas, this year.

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RIP Frank Mankiewicz, coiner of "retronym"

Frank Mankiewicz at DARE press conferenceFrom the New York Times obituary for Frank Mankiewicz (son of Herman, nephew of Joseph):

Frank Mankiewicz, a writer and Democratic political strategist who was Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s press secretary, directed Senator George S. McGovern’s losing 1972 presidential campaign and for six years was the president of National Public Radio, died Thursday at a hospital in Washington. He was 90.

Mankiewicz was also a bit of wordsmith and coined a useful word now found in many dictionaries: retronym, defined by the OED as "a neologism created for an existing object or concept because the exact meaning of the original term used for it has become ambiguous (usually as a result of a new development, technological advance, etc.)."

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Geoffrey Leech, 1936-2014

Geoffrey Leech, one of the giants of corpus-based computational linguistics, passed away yesterday. With the death of Chuck Fillmore in February, the field has lost two of its pillars this year.

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James Higginbotham, 1941-2014

James Higginbotham, professor of philosophy and linguistics at USC, died on Friday at the age of 72. USC News details his professional career, which straddled the disciplinary boundary between philosophy of language and theoretical linguistics.

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Charles J. Fillmore

Charles J. (Chuck) Fillmore died last week. Lily Wong Fillmore asked me to prepare some brief remarks for the press. Here they are.

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Charles J. Fillmore, 1929-2014

Arnold Zwicky shares the sad news that the Berkeley linguist Charles J. "Chuck" Fillmore passed away yesterday. Arnold quotes Amy Dahlstrom's Facebook update:

Charles Fillmore died yesterday at age 84 after a long battle with cancer. A brilliant linguist, especially in the field of lexical semantics, who influenced so many of us Berkeley students and colleagues elsewhere. He was sweet and funny and loving, and deeply devoted to [his wife, Berkeley linguist] Lily Wong Fillmore. The loss of my Doktorvater feels like the loss of a parent.

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How Sid Caesar learned double-talk

The obituaries for the great comic Sid Caesar invariably mention his proficiency in "double-talk," mimicking the sounds (but not the sense) of foreign languages. (On the phenomenon of double-talk, see Mark Liberman's posts on yaourter here, here, here, and here.) It turns out that this was a talent Caesar had cultivated ever since he was a boy clearing tables at his father's restaurant in multi-ethnic Yonkers.

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Stanford remembers Ivan Sag

As reported earlier this month by Arnold Zwicky, the world of linguistics lost Ivan Sag after a three-year fight against cancer. Now Corrie Goldman of The Humanities at Stanford provides a more in-depth look at Sag's life, quoting many colleagues (including a couple of Language Loggers) who worked — and played — with him.

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Ivan Sag 1949-2013

My friend and Stanford colleague Ivan Sag died on Tuesday, after three years of enduring cancer, with uncommon grace. Back in April, Stanford hosted a workshop on Structure and Evidence in Linguistics in Ivan's honor; the workshop website has not only the program, but also a set of tributes to Ivan and his 40 years in linguistics.

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Elmore Leonard, 1925-2013

Marilyn Stasio, "Elmore Leonard, Who Refined the Crime Thriller, Dies at 87", NYT 8/20/2013:

Elmore Leonard, the prolific crime novelist whose louche characters, deadpan dialogue and immaculate prose style in novels like “Get Shorty,” “Freaky Deaky” and “Glitz” established him as a modern master of American genre writing, died on Tuesday at his home in Bloomfield Village, Mich. He was 87. […]

To his admiring peers, Mr. Leonard did not merely validate the popular crime thriller; he stripped the form of its worn-out affectations, reinventing it for a new generation and elevating it to a higher literary shelf.

Reviewing “Riding the Rap” for The New York Times Book Review in 1995, Martin Amis cited Mr. Leonard’s “gifts — of ear and eye, of timing and phrasing — that even the most indolent and snobbish masters of the mainstream must vigorously covet.”

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R.I.P. Ward Goodenough

Bonnie L. Cook, "Ward H. Goodenough, 94, Penn professor", Philadelphia Inquirer 6/15/2013:

Ward H. Goodenough, 94, a longtime University of Pennsylvania professor whose work helped shape anthropology, died Sunday, June 9, of organ failure at the Quadrangle in Haverford. […]

Born in Cambridge, Mass., he lived in England and Germany as a child while his father studied at the University of Oxford. He became fluent in German by age 4, and his fascination with languages never dimmed.

After the family moved to Connecticut, he graduated from the Groton School in Massachusetts and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in 1940 from Cornell University, majoring in Scandinavian languages and literature.

Although he enrolled in graduate school at Yale University, his studies were interrupted by World War II. He served in the Army as a noncommissioned officer from November 1941 to December 1945.

During the last years of the war, he was assigned to a social science research unit to study certain initiatives. The unit posited that integration of the armed forces was feasible and desirable, and that the GI Bill would meet the needs of returning soldiers and stabilize civilian society.

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John J. Gumperz, 1922-2013

John J. Gumperz, the Berkeley sociolinguist who, among his many contributions, introduced "the speech community" as a unit of linguistic analysis, died on Friday at the age of 91. Margalit Fox has a thoughtful obituary in the New York Times.

Professor Gumperz, who at his death was an emeritus professor in Berkeley’s anthropology department, was a sociolinguist, whose field stands at the nexus of linguistics, anthropology and sociology. But though sociolinguistics as a whole embraces spoken language and the printed word, he concentrated on face-to-face verbal exchanges.

The subfield he created, known as interactional sociolinguistics, studies such exchanges in a range of social situations. It is especially concerned with discourse as it occurs across cultures, seeking to pinpoint the sources of the misunderstandings that can arise.

“He was one of the first people to look at how language is used by people in their everyday lives,” Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and the author of popular books on language, said in a recent interview. “Gumperz was paying attention to the details of how language is used: your intonation, where you pause, the specific expressions that people from one culture or another might use.”

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Calvert Watkins, 1933-2013

The great Indo-Europeanist Calvert Watkins passed away in his sleep on the evening of March 20. From the Harvard Gazette:

Calvert Watkins, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Linguistics and the Classics, emeritus, died earlier this month at the age of 80. 

A towering figure in historical and Indo-European linguistics and a pioneer in the field of Indo-European poetics, Watkins presided over the expansion of Harvard’s Department of Linguistics in the 1960s, and served as its chair several times between 1963 until his retirement in 2003. From then until his death, he served as professor in residence at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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