Bob Stockwell

Robert P. Stockwell, long of UCLA linguistics, died on the 28th at the age of 87. Bob was one of the generation of energetic program-builders in the linguistics of the late 50s through the 60s and early 70s, and also one of the first linguists not trained in transformational-generative grammar to work in the framework and help spread its ideas (some others: Emmon Bach, Chuck Fillmore, Paul Postal). Throughout all this time he continued his early interest in the history of English, especially its phonology and morphology, which broadened to become the focus of his work in later years.

The following brief obituary has been posted on Bob’s website by the department:

Bob was born June 12, 1925, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was educated at the University of Virginia, where he received a B.A. in English and Greek in 1946, an M.A. in English in 1949, and a Ph.D. in English Philology in 1952. He worked from 1952 to 1956 School of Languages of the Foreign Service Institute, where he developed highly effective pedagogical materials, grounded in linguistic theory, for the teaching of Spanish. Bob came to UCLA as an Assistant Professor in the English Department in 1956. He soon was marshaling the resources for an effective linguistics program: the Interdepartmental Program in linguistics was approved in 1960, followed by the Center for Research in Languages and Linguistics in 1963 and then full department status in 1966 — the same year Bob was promoted to Full Professor. For many years Bob served as the new department’s chair. [He retired from teaching in 1994.]

The department proved to be an intellectually very lively place, one to which strong faculty were readily attracted. With a number of important recruitments, the department rose in only a few years to scholarly eminence and thence to a very high national program ranking. Bob was also in the thick of the new department’s research activities, notably in his coauthorship of The Major Syntactic Structures of English (1973), with Paul Schachter and Barbara Partee, and also in his longstanding work (much of it with his colleague and later spouse Donka Minkova, UCLA English Department) on the history of English. As his health declined during the last few years we saw little of Bob, but the strong academic culture of the department he left behind has remained as an attestation of his work.

Also attesting to his influence was a Festschrift in honor of his 60th birthday in 1985, published as

On Language: Rhetorica, Phonologica, Syntactica, a Festschrift for Robert P. Stockwell from his Friends and Colleagues. Edited by C.K. Duncan-Rose and Theo Vennemann. London: Routledge, 1988. [I have an article in the volume, “On the subject of bare imperatives in English”, on my website here.]

Then, from Bob’s own hand, this statement of his (recent) research interests:

– History of the English Language. Donka Minkova and I have written a new text on the subject, organized on a principle inspired by Barbara Strang’s text of 20 years ago, namely starting from specific phenomena of the present day and doing a sort of geological probe into the origins of the phenomena. Rather like etymology, but etymology of construction types, of sound types, of variation types, etc.

– Early English Metrics, esp. Beowulf.

– OE and later English diphthong formation processes, in particular “vocalization”.

Notable volumes by Bob, alone or (mostly) with collaborators:

1965. Robert P. Stockwell and J. Donald Bowen. The Sounds of English and Spanish. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

1965. Robert P. Stockwell, J. Donald Bowen, and John W. Martin. The Grammatical Structures of English and Spanish. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

1972. Robert P. Stockwell and Ronald K. S. Macaulay (editors, and authors of the introduction). Linguistic Change and Generative Theory. Indiana University Press: Bloomington, Indiana. I have a piece in the volume: “Note on a phonological hierarchy in English”, on my website here.]

1973. Robert P. Stockwell, Paul Schachter, and Barbara Partee. Major Syntactic Structures of English. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. [The final product of a significant research project. I was one of a panel of consultants at an intermediate stage of the project, in 1967.]

1977. Robert P. Stockwell. Foundations of Syntactic Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice-Hall.

2001. Robert P. Stockwell and Donka Minkova. English Words: History and Structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

One Response to “Bob Stockwell”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Grant Goodall on Google+ on 12/4/12:

    Robert Stockwell, the founder of the UCLA Linguistics department, passed away recently. He was my first syntax teacher, and he made a profound and lasting impression on me. The idea that one could study grammar in a systematic and rigorous way was entirely new to me and everything about the course fascinated me. I loved his textbook (“Foundations of Syntactic Theory”), I loved doing the problem sets, and I loved the way he conducted the class. He spoke with authority and made sure we learned, but he also had a relaxed, comfortable manner that put us all at ease. I’m not sure I had ever met someone before who seemed so articulate yet genuine, as if formal written English were his native language. I never had another course with him, but for the rest of my time at UCLA, he continued to follow my progress, and when it came time to apply to grad school, he even wrote letters for me. I saw him much less often in the years since, of course, but it was always a great pleasure to run into him at LSA meetings.

    I still have Prof. Stockwell’s books on my shelf and I still feel the enthusiasm for studying human language that he instilled in me by his own example. Many tributes to him are being expressed these days, and properly so, but I hope that no one forgets what a dedicated and inspirational teacher he was to generations of undergraduate students.

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