Paul Chapin

From the Linguistic Society of America’s website on the 2nd:

In Memoriam: Paul Chapin, 1938-2015

The LSA mourns the July 1, 2015 death of Paul Chapin, LSA member since 1965, Life Member of the Society, Fellow of the LSA (Class of 2008) and former Secretary-Treasurer (2003-2008).

Excerpts from a memorial statement prepared by Tom Bever, Merrill Garrett, and Cecile McKee (University of Arizona), now on the LSA site:

He directed the National Science Foundation’s Linguistics Program from 1975 to 1999, declining several offers to move up to higher positions in NSF.

… His positive influence on linguistics cannot be overstated. Since NSF is the primary source of government support for the field, the NSF program director has a supremely important influence: Paul used this influence with a great sense of critical judgment but with an equal sense of impartiality in a field rife with academic conflicts.

… His first graduate program was in Philosophy at Harvard for a year. He subsequently became a student at MIT [finishing a PhD with Noam Chomsky as his adviser], but worked for most of that time in the MITRE Corporation’s pioneering lab in computational linguistics – indeed, he later became President of the Association of Computational Linguistics in 1977.

Paul’s research in linguistics was quite broad: derivational morphology, theoretical syntax, computational linguistics, experimental psycholinguistics, Polynesian languages. But his great contribution to the field was in his service, notably to the NSF’s Linguistics Program and then to the LSA.

Paul was exceptionally self-effacing. I don’t think he ever had his own website, nor did he blog, and he has no Wikipedia page (no doubt by his own arrangement). It’s not easy to find photos of him; here’s a not very good one from the MIT Linguistics page on the occasion of his death:

Paul and I overlapped as grad students at MIT and as linguists at the MITRE corporation, and then I saw him regularly on NSF and LSA business. In addition to being extraordinarily competent at what he did, he was one of the world’s nicest people. Some personal notes from the Arizona linguists:

Paul was a witty and engaging personal friend, with wide ranging interests. He had a lifelong love of music, as a flute player, a singer, and in retirement serving on the board of the Desert Chorale in Santa Fe, NM [where he and his wife Susan moved after Washington]. He enjoyed great food whether high cuisine or ethnic [working in Washington gave him access to a wide range of cuisines, which he shared enthusiastically with those of us who did business with the NSF Linguistics Program]. He could always tell you where and when he had eaten his favorite version of any particular dish. He found most published crossword puzzles too easy. He collaborated with an online community from 2003-2012 to follow the Samuel Pepys diary on a day by day basis.

Family and friends remember Paul for his deep caring for others and his lifelong commitment to social progress [especially racial justice].

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