Barbara C. Scholz

With grief in my heart, I report the death (on Saturday, May 14, in Edinburgh, Scotland, of lung cancer) of my old friend and respected colleague Barbara C. Scholz. A few things about her life and work and then some personal recollections.

The bare bones of her education: B.A., Urbana College; M.Div., Andover Newton; M.A., Ohio State; M.Sc., Edinburgh; Ph.D., Ohio State. Her major teaching positions, in philosophy: Univ. of Toledo, Ohio, and San Jose State Univ. She was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies in 2005-06, and was an honorary fellow and occasional lecturer in philosophy at the University of Edinburgh when she died.

On her Edinburgh webpage she listed her research interests:

Philosophy of the cognitive and linguistic sciences, especially philosophy of linguistics, philosophical aspects of language acquisition, the history of linguistic thought, and the role of mathematics in formalization of linguistic theories.

Though she taught a wide variety of courses in philosophy (including, as I recall, ethics and aesthetics on occasion), the focus of her thinking was on the philosophy of science and the philosophy of cognition, increasingly centered on language and linguistics as the years went on (as will be obvious from her description of her research interests above). She never thought of herself as a linguist, however –but linguists would benefit greatly from reading her perceptive, tightly argued, often subtle, unraveling of issues in linguistic theory. Two notable items specifically on language acquisition:

‘Searching for an argument for linguistic nativism’ by Barbara C. Scholz and Geoffrey K. Pullum, The Linguistic Review 19: 185-224 (2002)

‘Irrational nativist exuberance’ by Barbara C. Scholz and Geoffrey K. Pullum, In Contemporary Debates in Cognitive Science, ed. by Robert J. Stainton, 59-80. Oxford: Basil Blackwell (2006)

Not long before her death she finished this long survey article:

‘Philosophy of Linguistics’, by Barbara C. Scholz, Francis Jeffry Pelletier, and Geoffrey K. Pullum, to appear in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. by Edward Zalta

Much of her published work was collaborative, especially with her husband, Geoff Pullum, but in most of these projects she was definitely the senior partner, and her name appropriately comes first in the list of authors (when editors and publishers allowed this).

On the personal side: Barbara and I met in Columbus, over 20 years ago, while she was a grad student at Ohio State; we were introduced by a boyfriend of mine, also an Ohio State grad student, who was a close friend of hers (actually, he invited his closest friends along on our first date — just a movie, nothing intimate — and these people all became good friends of mine, and then of Jacques’s as well).

A few years later, Barbara (then at Toledo) came to a philosophy conference in San Francisco and came down to Palo Alto for dinner with Jacques and me. When Geoff heard about this, he asked to be added, since he knew Barbara’s work and admired it. The four of us went to Gordon Biersch, and Barbara and Geoff really got along. After a little while, Jacques turned to me and said with some amusement, “I don’t think they’re going to be paying any attention to us any more” (they were making an intense intellectual bond; the rest came later). It was delightful.

That was March 31, 1991, celebrated as a holiday in the Pullum/Scholz household (and the Zwicky/Transue household, too). Twenty years ago this March.

Then I got to see a lot of Barbara and Geoff, mostly in their Santa Cruz house, sometimes on their visits to Palo Alto, but also during the 1993 Linguistic Institute at Ohio State, when we shared a house. Barbara was a very private person in many ways, but she was also sociable, great fun to be with, and a stunning person to think things over with.

Barbara’s cancer was diagnosed late in 2010 and then advanced very fast. But in early February she was still finding people to friend on Facebook — me in particular. I see with dismay that I never got around to answering her last Facebook message. Well, Barbara would always be there, thoughtful and direct and funny. Only she isn’t there any more.

9 Responses to “Barbara C. Scholz”

  1. irrationalpoint Says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss.

  2. Greg Morrow Says:

    My condolences to you, and to Professor Pullum, who clearly adored and valued Professor Scholz in his frequent references to their work together.

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    Geoff’s own posting on Barbara, here.

  4. es Says:

    My condolences to Pullum and Scholz’s friends and family. My mother died of cancer when I was a child and I know how touching and painful these things are.

  5. arnold zwicky Says:

    SF Peninsula Sacred Harp singing on Sunday (Pentecost, as it happened), at All Saints Episcopal Church in Palo Alto (a few blocks from my house). Partway through I led a song in Barbara’s memory (memorial songs are a custom in the tradition): Mount Desert (474) (named for the island off the coast of Maine; accent on the second syllable of “desert”) — words by Isaac Watts (1707), but “new” music, by Bruce Randall (1985).

    Unshaken as the sacred hill,
    And firm as mountains be,
    Firm as a rock the soul shall rest, shall rest
    That leans, O Lord, on thee,
    That leans, O Lord, on thee.

    Not walls or hills could guard so well
    Old Salem’s happy ground,
    As those eternal arms of love, of love
    That ev’ry saint surround,
    That ev’ry saint surround.

    (I particularly like “those eternal arms of love”.)

  6. Grant Says:

    I’m a new graduate student in Cognitive Science at UC Irvine, and I was just reading the Pullum and Scholz (2002) article from the Linguistic Review for a class assignment. I was so enamored with the writing that I had to know more about the authors, so I looked them up on Google. Of course, I found this post and was crestfallen. I just wanted to note that, despite her departure, she continues to accumulate admirers, myself among them.

  7. Aníbal Elías W. Says:

    still can’t believe that my dearest Prof. Scholz has passed away… She introduced me to the world of Wittgenstein whilst studying Philosophy at Edinburgh University. Last time I saw her (winter 2009) I was heading to Poland to visit my relatives that I never got to meet as they were killed during the Holocaust. We had an incredible conversation over the issue, particularly about the immortality of the soul (a topic that I explored in my MSc dissertation). She was a decent, smart, and funny woman. She taught me Descartes by using Star Trek as an example! (hard to explain!). :) Greetings from South America.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Wonderful to hear from you, and to hear your recollections of Barbara. Since Barbara died, Geoff has been hearing wonderful things from Barbara’s students and other people she affected.

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