From: Richard Meier <rmeiermail.utexas.edu>
Subject: In Memory of Carlota S. Smith
Professor Carlota S. Smith of the Department of Linguistics at The
University of Texas at Austin died Thursday, May 24 at the age of 73 after
a long battle with cancer. She was the Dallas TACA Centennial Professor in
the Humanities and had taught at The University of Texas at Austin for 38
Carlota Smith received her bachelor’s degree from Radcliffe College in
1955. In the late 1950s, she became a research assistant and then a
doctoral student in the Department of Linguistics at the University of
Pennsylvania. During this time she worked with Zellig Harris, who directed
the doctoral dissertation of Noam Chomsky and who would also later direct
her own doctoral dissertation. In 1961, Prof. Smith was a graduate student
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, where she
was one of the very first woman students to work with Chomsky. Prof.
Smith’s first publication (“A Class of Complex Modifiers in English”, 1961)
dates from this period. It appeared in the journal Language.
After receiving her M.A. (1964) and Ph.D. (1967) at the University of
Pennsylvania, Prof. Smith joined the faculty of The University of Texas at
Austin in 1969, where she was a faculty member in the Department of
Linguistics until her death. She served as the chair of the department
from 1981-1985. In 1991, she was named the Dallas TACA Centennial
Professor in the Humanities.
Prof. Smith’s early research examined the syntax of English. In 1969, she
published, along with Elizabeth Shipley and Lila Gleitman, a very
influential paper on how children acquire English as a first language; in
ensuing years she would publish several more papers on child language
development. Starting in the mid-1970s, she embarked on what was perhaps
her most important line of research. In many papers and in a very
important book (''The Parameter of Aspect,'' published in 1991 by Kluwer),
she analyzed the ways in which languages encode time and how they encode
the way events happen over time. Prof. Smith’s work on tense and aspect has
been notable because of its empirical foundation in her careful analyses of
a number of quite different languages, including English, French, Russian,
Mandarin, and Navajo. Through her many years of research on Navajo, she
became a member of the Navajo Language Academy, a group that seeks to
further the study of Navajo, to keep Navajo from becoming endangered, and
to provide training in linguistic research to members of the Navajo Nation.
In 2003, Cambridge University Press published Prof. Smith’s second book,
''Modes of Discourse.'' This book analyzes the grammatical properties that
distinguish different genres of discourse (e.g., narratives vs. reports vs.
descriptions). In this book and in earlier papers (for example, a 1985
paper on the French author Gustave Flaubert), she sought to bring the
analytic tools of linguistics to the humanistic study of literature.
Carlota Smith was an active member of the Department of Linguistics until
the very last. This semester she taught a graduate seminar on time in
language. She was meeting with students and faculty in her office just
three days before her death. Throughout the semester she was thinking
about how to ensure the future of the department in which she had taught
for virtually her entire career. At The University of Texas at Austin, her
absence will be felt for many years to come.
Prof. Smith is survived by her husband, John Robertson, who is a professor
in UT’s Law School. She is also survived by her children Alison and Joel,
and by her grandchildren Sylvia and Ari.
Prof. Smith’s web page may be found at: http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~carlota/
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, June 2 at 4:00 at the Alumni
Center on the UT Austin campus.
Condolences may be sent to Prof. Smith’s family in care of the Department
of Linguistics, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station B5100,
Austin, TX 78712 USA.
Richard P. Meier, Chair
Department of Linguistics
The University of Texas at Austin
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