Ivan Sag 1949-2013

« previous post | next post »

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.

On Ivan's life and work, mostly in his own words (adapted from his website):

Ivan A. Sag (PhD, MIT 1976) was the Sadie Dernham Patek Professor in Humanities and Professor of Linguistics and Symbolic Systems at Stanford University. He was also a Senior Researcher at Stanford's Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI) and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Linguistic Society of America.

Ivan was one of the originators/developers of Generalised Phrase Structure Grammar (GPSG), Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar (HPSG), and Sign-Based Construction Grammar (SBCG). He worked on numerous syntactic problems and  also made contributions in semantics, experimental and computational linguistics, phonology, and the study of discourse. Focusing on issues at the morphology/syntax and syntax/semantics interfaces, his recent research primarily concerned constraint-based, lexicalist models of grammar, specifically construction grammars, and their relation to theories of language processing.

Born [11/9/49] and raised in Alliance, Ohio, Ivan attended The Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, PA before he was unceremoniously expelled (story here). He began his linguistic career studying Indo-European and Sanskrit at the University of Rochester (BA – 1971) and the University of Pennsylvania (MA – 1973). His interest in grammatical theory led him to study at MIT; his 1976 PhD dissertation (advised by Noam Chomsky) was on ellipsis. Ivan was Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania (1976 – 1979) before joining the faculty at Stanford in 1979, broadening his interests to include model-theoretic semantics, discourse, and language processing.

Ivan received many honors and fellowships; he was especially proud of the Linguistic Society of America's Victoria Fromkin Prize in 2005, for distinguished contributions to the field of linguistics, and of the Edward Sapir Professorship at the LSA's Linguistic Institute at UC Boulder in 2011.

Ivan was the founder of Dead Tongues, the unofficial rock and roll band of the Stanford Linguistics Department (which played at the April IvanFest).

Ivan is survived by his wife, our linguistics colleague Penny Eckert.

(I have posted some more personal recollections of Ivan on my own blog. And on 10/14/13, Linguist List published a long posting by Geoff Pullum including personal recollections and a detailed account of Ivan's scholarly work.)


Comments are closed.