A note from the Penn Linguistics Department, written by Gillian Sankoff and Tony Kroch:
It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our colleague Ellen F. Prince. Ellen died peacefully at home in Philadelphia on Sunday, October 24, after a long battle with cancer.
After earning her doctorate in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania in 1974, Ellen joined the faculty of the Penn Linguistics Department in the same year. She taught here until her retirement in 2005 and served as chair of our department from 1993 to 1997. Ellen was also active in the affairs of the Linguistic Society of America, serving on the executive committee and in many other capacities. She was noted for her interdisciplinary perspective and held a secondary appointment in Penn's Computer and Information Sciences Department. Among her many honors were the Presidency of the Linguistic Society of America in 2008 and election as a fellow of the AAAS in 2009.
A pioneer in linguistic pragmatics, Ellen worked on her own and with many colleagues and students on various aspects of the subject. Several of her incisive and tightly argued papers became classics in the field. She is perhaps best known for her typology of information statuses in discourse, based on the study of naturally-occurring data; but she also devoted major efforts to the study of the pragmatic functions of syntactic constructions, including the various species of cleft and left-periphery constructions, including topicalization and left-dislocation. She had a particular interest in Yiddish and used her knowledge of that language to do ground-breaking work on the cross-linguistic comparison of the pragmatic functions of syntactic constructions. In later years, she continued her work on the referential status of noun phrases in the framework of centering theory, as developed by colleagues Aravind Joshi, Scott Weinstein and Barbara Grosz.
Ellen was an inspirational and caring teacher, imparting high intellectual standards while at the same time providing solid support and mentoring to her many students. We missed her acutely when she retired from our department; she will be even more sorely missed now and for years to come.
Friends, colleagues and students who would like to remember Ellen Prince by making a charitable donation are asked to donate to the American Lung Association.