回复: RIP: Professor Geoffrey Leech
A tribute paid to Geoff Leech by Professor Greg Meyer, the Head of Department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster -
Professor Geoffrey Leech, founding professor of our department, and an influential scholar who has shaped several fields of linguistics, died suddenly in his office yesterday afternoon, 19 August. Our thoughts are with Fanny, his family, and his many friends.
Geoff Leech was born in Gloucester in 1936. He studied at University College London for his BA, MA, and PhD, and went to the US on a Harkness Fellowship. Geoff recalled in his history of the department that Norman Fairclough had a role in encouraging him to come to the Department of English at Lancaster as a Senior Lecturer in 1969. He already had important publications then, and he was very energetic both in his own research and teaching and in bringing other talented linguists to the department. In 1974 he became the first Head of the new Linguistics Department (we celebrated the 40th Anniversary last month), and its first Professor. He played a crucial role in almost all the developments in the department over the next 20 years as it grew to be a major centre for linguistics. In 1996 he took early retirement, partly because he wanted to protect more junior colleagues in a time of financial crisis. But he continued as a Research Professor until 2002, and he has remained active in research, departmental duties such as PhD supervision and examining, talks to students, and contacts with the many visitors who came from around the world to see him.
Those who are familiar with Geoff’s work in any one academic area are often astonished to find out how much he has done in other areas. These areas might be summarized as:
· Stylistics was his first focus, in A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry (1969) and, with Mick Short, Style in Fiction (1981), and he continued to write about literary language for the rest of his career, and to inspire a long tradition of stylistics in the department.
· When the department was founded, he was listed as a specialist in semantics, in such work as Meaning and the English Verb (1971) and Semantics (1974). This work developed towards Principles of Pragmatics (1983), a key text in the field, which led to a great deal of later work, at Lancaster and elsewhere, that was celebrated in a conference on its 30th anniversary. His new book, The Pragmatics of Politeness, was published just last week.
· Geoff played a key role in two of the great descriptive grammars of English: Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (1985), and Douglas Biber, Stig Johansson, Geoffrey Leech, Susan Conrad and Edward Finegan, The Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English (1999). These references are used by almost every scholar of the English language. But he also worked with others to produce smaller, more accessible grammars for students and teachers; one of many examples would be A Communicative Grammar of English (with Jan Svartvik, 1975).
· Perhaps he is best known now as one of the founders of corpus linguistics, from his work in the early 1970s on what became the Lancaster-Oslo-Bergen (LOB) Corpus, to the British National Corpus in the 1990s, and to further projects since then. Again, his influence has not only been through his own work, but through his bringing together and encouraging a second and third generation of talented corpus linguists, such as those who have now formed the Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science at Lancaster.
· Geoff’s work has been translated into Japanese and Chinese, and his links with these countries, and PhD students and visitors, played a key part in the department’s development.
· Along with all this work, he found time to pursue other research interests, often in surprising areas. My personal favourite is his first book, which grew out of a master’s project funded by ATV television, English in Advertising (1966). He was also fascinated with English place names, a topic on which he could always make interesting comments, and I’m sure other colleagues will recall other projects.
But a list of publications and funded projects, even one as long and impressive as this, does not begin to suggest the effect he had on us, his colleagues and friends. I think the first thought that will come to any of us, when we remember him, is how supportive he was. He was interested in what you were doing, he wanted it to work, and he knew when to give a push and when to back off and let someone get on with it.
Another quality that particularly endeared him to us was his complete lack of self-promotion. As the person who coined the term ‘Maxim of Modesty’ in his book on pragmatics, he was always trying to downplay his own contribution, and always the first and most heartfelt in his congratulation of others. (I leave it to specialists to determine if speakers in general conform with this maxim quite as much as Geoff himself did). This modesty may be another part of what made him such a great colleague. I think every Head of Department to serve since Geoff has in her or his files of yellow paper memos or folders of old e-mails a message from Geoff volunteering for some minor task that no one else would take, a task that no Head would ever dream of assigning to someone as eminent, and over-worked, as him.
Perhaps the other side of this modesty, and much less obvious, was the self-confidence, the bravery really, that allowed him to set aside well-respected and successful work in several areas to devote his career, and that of several colleagues, to corpus linguistics. It is hard to recall now just how deeply unfashionable and very risky this field was in the 1970s when Geoff began his work, and how long he had to wait before others realised its value.
We also recall the delight of discovering that someone so soft-spoken and so rigorous in his scholarship could be so witty. You might spend a happy afternoon reading the epigraphs in Principles of Pragmatics. Any talk to a student society, or a seminar, or a big conference, would have some deft turn or observation.
I do not want to give a false impression; Geoff was not always mild and amenable. Anyone who has worked with him will know that there is an unmistakable non-lexical signal when he is annoyed, and that one is wise to attend to this signal. I have only seen Geoff really angry a few times, in each case when he thought some injustice was being done, and I can say there was a steeliness in his anger that would surprise people who only know the soft-spoken and self-deprecating colleague.
Geoff is of course mourned by other communities, beyond our department and university. Geoff and Fanny have had a wide circle of friends in Kirkby Lonsdale, since moving there thirty years ago, and Geoff, a gifted pianist and organist, was particularly active in the music-making in the small and lovely churches of Tunstall, Melling, and Leck.
There is both consolation and pain in the fact that it was all so sudden. Geoff was doing exactly what he wanted up to the moment he died; Fanny says he had played organ in the church on Sunday, and was working on a performance of Britten’s War Requiem. He came into work as he has done regularly ever since his retirement. People who saw him in the morning said that he was cheerful and apparently healthy. But this suddenness is also one reason the news is so bewildering, both for those who were there in the department and for those who have heard by e-mail or phone calls.
At the Fortieth Anniversary of the department last month, presentation after presentation showed how much Geoff had contributed to research, teaching, and organisation of the department, and I am glad that he was there and healthy to hear all this. What we did not say, what we perhaps could not say, in all that recitation of achievements, was how much we loved him. We will have another event, after Geoff’s family and friends have had time to face the first wave of grief, to celebrate Geoff’s personal legacy.