Archive for Obituaries

Frater studiorum: Tsu-Lin Mei (1933-2023)

It is with deep sadness that I report the passing on October 14, 2023 of Tsu-Lin Mei, professor of Chinese historical linguistics at Cornell University.  Tsu-Lin was born on February 14, 1933 at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing. He received his B.A. from Oberlin College in 1954, his M.A. (in Mathematics) from Harvard in 1955, and his Ph.D. (in Philosophy) from Yale in 1962. He joined Cornell in 1971 as Associate Professor of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, chaired the Department of Asian Studies, directed the China-Japan Program (the East Asia Program), and was the Hu Shih Professor from 1994 to his retirement in 2001.  After retiring from Cornell, he served as a visiting professor at Stanford University, Peking University, the Chinese Academy of Social Science in Beijing, National Taiwan University, and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, among others.

He was elected to Academia Sinica in Taiwan in 1994.

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Hai-t'ao Tang (1931-2023)

From the Princeton University Department of East Asian Studies newsletter (3/26/23):

Passing of Emeritus lecturer Hai-t’ao Tang

Emeritus lecturer, Hai-t’ao Tang passed away at his Princeton home on Sunday, March 26, 2023. He was born August 27, 1931, in Shanghai, China and completed his master’s degree in Chinese Literature at National Taiwan University. He joined the East Asian Studies Department as a Lecturer in Chinese language in 1974 and taught for 22 years, becoming Lecturer Emeritus in 1996.

Hai-t’ao Tang was recruited to teach at Princeton by Professors Frederick (Fritz) Mote and Ta-tuan (T.T.) Ch’en. Throughout his career he devoted his energy and intellect to teaching Chinese as a living language and encouraged each learner to adopt Chinese as one’s own language and nurture it to live and grow inside oneself. Hai -t'ao Tang co-authored nearly a dozen books including Classical Chinese — A Basic Reader and Readings in Classical Chinese Poetry and Prose.

He is survived by his wife Nai-Ying Yuan Tang who also spent her career in the Department of East Asian Studies as Chinese Language Lecturer.

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Xu Wenkan (1943-2023)


Xú Wénkān 徐文堪, who was born in October of 1943 in the metropolis of Shanghai, died in the same city on January 4, 2023 of complications arising from the novel coronavirus.  He was one of the leading lexicographers compiling and editing the Hànyǔ Dà Cídiǎn 漢語大詞典 (Unabridged Dictionary of Sinitic), a comprehensive work of 23,000 head characters, 370,000 words, and 1,500,000 citations in 12 large volumes plus index, in the editing of which Wenkan played a key role from its beginning in 1977 to its completion in 1994.

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A Remembrance of Anne Cutler

The following is a guest post by Martin Ho Kwan Ip,  who is now a postdoc at Penn. See "Anne Cutler 1945-2022", 6/8/2022, for some background and links.

I am one of Anne's most recent students (her 44th student from the MARCS Institute in Australia). I met Anne for the first time in 2014 when she was invited to give a talk at the University of Queensland (we had been corresponding by email but had never met until then). Although I was fascinated with languages, I was still an undergraduate student in psychology and foreign languages; I knew next to nothing about speech and was totally unfamiliar with many of the concepts and jargon in linguistics. But her talk was like a story and it was so memorable – she showed us some of the different mental challenges associated with listening (like when she used speech waveforms to show us how gaps between words are not as clear as we think), why different languages are needed to better understand how the mind works when we listen, how infants’ early segmentation abilities influence later vocabulary growth – this was the first language-related talk I had attended and I was just so, so intrigued. 

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Anne Cutler 1945-2022

Anne Cutler, our beloved colleague, recently became ill with an opportunistic lung infection shortly after traveling to London for her official induction as a 2020 Fellow of the British Academy. From there she traveled to Nijmegen, where on May 31st she received medical treatment that revealed an underlying leukemia. After just one week in the hospital, with her husband, Bill Sloman, by her side, she died on June 7th. We thank Bill for keeping us apprised of Anne’s condition.

So many of us have vivid and delightful memories of Anne. They are welcome in the comments below, or will be included in posts to follow.

Here is a link to an obituary on the website of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, where Anne was director from 1993 to 2013.

Update 6/12/2022 —

Condolences may be sent to Anne’s husband, Bill Sloman: Anthony William Sloman <>.

Update — "In Memoriam Anne Cutler" ISCApad 8/6/2022.

Update — "Spoken language expert's exuberant life of science" Sydney Morning Herald 9/23/22

Update — "A Remembrance of Anne Cutler", 7/13/2022.

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Terry Kaufman 1937-2022

Terrence Scott Kaufman was born on June 12, 1937, in Portland, Oregon, and died on March 3, 2022. He earned his B.A. at the University of Chicago in 1959, began his decades-long fieldwork career in 1960, and earned his Ph.D. degree in 1963 at the University of California, Berkeley. His Ph.D. dissertation was a grammar of Tzeltal. He taught at The Ohio State University (1963-1964) and at Berkeley (1964-1970), and then spent the rest of his teaching career at the University of Pittsburgh (1971-2011). He was a valued mentor to the many students he trained at Pitt and in his MesoAmerican documentation projects, and a dear friend to many of the rest of us. As his old friend Lyle Campbell put it recently, Terry was truly "astonishing in the breadth and depth of his knowledge of seemingly everything, of his seemingly superhuman ability as a fieldworker, picking up instantly on the most subtle of things, getting more documentation done in a week's fieldwork on a language than most others could achieve in years of effort".

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Martin Kay, 1935-2021

I learned about Martin Kay's recent passing from a brief obit on the ACL's web site — Tim Baldwin, "Vale Martin Kay":

It is with a profound sense of loss that, on behalf of the ACL Exec, I announce the passing of Martin Kay on August 7, 2021.

Martin was a pioneer and visionary of computational linguistics, in the truest sense of those terms. He made seminal contributions to the field in areas including parsing, unification grammars, finite state methods, and machine translation.

Martin was educated at the University of Cambridge, before moving to the USA and working at Rand Corporation from 1961 to 1972. He was Chair of the Department of Computer Science at University of California Irvine from 1972 to 1974, before moving to the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). In 1985, he took up a position as Professor at Stanford University, and split his time between Xerox PARC and Stanford until 2002.

Martin was awarded the ACL Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005, and was Chair of the International Committee for Computational Linguistics from 1984 to 2016. But perhaps equally for those who had the good fortune of knowing him personally or attending an event that he spoke at, he was a warm, generous, extraordinarily funny, disarmingly down-to-earth man whose loss is felt keenly.

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Lila Gleitman, 1929-2021

We join scores of friends and colleagues around the world in mourning the passing of Lila R. Gleitman, Professor Emerita of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Lila was widely recognized as a brilliant and trailblazing thinker, writer, and teacher, but she was also, famously, a larger than life character with an incomparable wit — “an awful lot of fun to hang around with,” as Ben Zimmer writes. We know how lucky we were to count her as a close family friend, and, in the years since Henry Gleitman’s passing, a regular dinner companion.  We relied on her lifetime of experience and considerable wisdom, and reciprocated any way we could; and we are far from alone in this. She often recounted in her inimitable way aspects of research along with consequential events in the history of linguistics, much of which is included in an article we helped prepare, along with Barbara Partee, for the Annual Review of Linguistics.

She was a student of Zellig Harris and a peer of Noam Chomsky when structuralism was giving way to generative linguistics. From that pivotal moment in history, she became a major catalyst for shifting the study of child language away from its then-stigmatized association with mothers in the private sphere to a place in the academy from which it would illuminate theories of language acquisition, word meaning, and thought itself. Incredibly, she started down the path to this accomplishment in the 1950s as a woman, wife, and mother — one whose determination and confidence were undaunted by obstacles she met along the way. (She would make us strike this paragraph as too much praise if she could.)

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R.I.P. Daniel Kane (1948-2021)

If you ever had a question about Jurchen (a long extinct Tungusic language, script, people, and dynasty [1115-1234; also called the Jin]) or Khitan (a long extinct Para-Mongolic language, script, people, and dynasty [916-1125; also called the Liao]), chances are that people would advise you, "Ask Danny Kane".

"World-renowned linguist an expert in ancient Chinese script", The Sydney Morning Herald (6/18/21)

At his primary school in 1950s Melbourne, Danny Kane would ask the kids from Italy, Poland, Hungary and elsewhere how to say things in their language. He became quite fluent in Italian and picked up Latin from the liturgy at church, pursuing it formally in high school along with French.

Home life was hard. His father had been a bank officer but was thrown out of work in the Great Depression and never regained a sound financial footing. Danny recalled living in houses in Richmond with holes in the floors and walls, and an army greatcoat for a winter blanket. With the help of Labor MP Jim Cairns, the family got public housing, but Danny was obliged to leave school at 16 to help with money.

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Annals of homophony

"Bunny Wailer, Reggae Pioneer With the Wailers, Dies at 73", NYT 3/2/2021:

Bunny Wailer, the last surviving original member of the Wailers, the Jamaican trio that helped establish and popularize reggae music — its other founders were Bob Marley and Peter Tosh — died on Tuesday at a hospital in Kingston, Jamaica. He was 73. […]

Formed in 1963, when its members were still teenagers, the Wailers were among the biggest stars of ska, the upbeat Jamaican style that borrowed from American R&B. On early hits like “Simmer Down” and “Rude Boy,” the three young men — who in those days wore suits and had short-cropped hair — sang in smooth harmony, threading some social commentary in with their onomatopoeic “doo-be doo-be doo-bas.”

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Remembering Richard Montague

Ivano Caponigro has created a page memorializing Richard Montague on the fiftieth anniversary of his death.

You should go read the whole page, which includes many pictures, a chapter from Ivano's in-process Montague Biography (the chapter title is "The birth of a new passion: natural language 1966"), and a YouTube video presenting Montague's 1967 explanation of his turn towards natural language.

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R.I.P. Geoff Nunberg

Geoffrey Nunberg died earlier today after a long illness.

You can sample his writing via his Google Scholar page, all the way back to his 1977 PhD thesis The Pragmatics of Reference. You can read or listen to a sample of his Fresh Air pieces; check out the links on his old Berkeley web page; delve into his Amazon author page; or look for his insights and influences in many other places.

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RIP, Michael Silverstein (1945-2020)

Michael Silverstein, a titan in the field of linguistic anthropology, passed away on Friday. UChicago News has an obituary today.

Prof. Michael Silverstein, a leading University of Chicago anthropologist who made groundbreaking contributions to linguistic anthropology and helped define the field of sociolinguistics, died July 17 in Chicago following a battle with brain cancer. He was 74.

The Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology, Linguistics and Psychology, Silverstein was known for his highly influential research on language-in-use as a social and cultural practice and for his long-term fieldwork on Native language speakers of the Pacific Northwest and of Aboriginal Australia. Most recently, Silverstein examined the effects of globalization, nationalism and other social forces on local speech communities.

“Over a half-century at the University of Chicago, he produced a body of work that fundamentally changed the place of linguistics in the field, with foundational contributions to the understanding of language structure, sociolinguistics and semiotics, as well as the history of linguistics and anthropology,” said Prof. Joe Masco, chair of the Department of Anthropology. “His erudition, sense of humor, love of scholarship, of teaching, of conversation and substantive debate is legendary and helped establish the intellectual strength of UChicago in all the many different fields of which he was part.”

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