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LINGUIST List 19.268

Tue Jan 22 2008

All: Obituary: Sorin Stati

Editor for this issue: Ann Sawyer <sawyerlinguistlist.org>

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        1.    Alessandro Capone, Obituary: Sorin Stati

Message 1: Obituary: Sorin Stati
Date: 22-Jan-2008
From: Alessandro Capone <alessandro.caponeistruzione.it>
Subject: Obituary: Sorin Stati
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Sorin Stati was already a full Professor of Linguistics and had great influence
in Rumania where he was often invited to talk to the national TV, when he
decided to leave his nation, already plagued by a dictatorship, and start his
career from scratch in Italy. You must imagine the difficulties in starting
everything abroad. When I was given a contract as Professor of applied
linguistics he wrote to me that his first appointment was also in applied
linguistics! Anyway he won his professorship in general linguistics in Italy and
he remained there to teach until he retired, some years before dying. Some
students of his say that he experienced periods of hardship before he obtained
his full professorship. His unusual story perhaps explains why he was so
tolerant of opinions which were very different from his, why he was always so
kind to scholars from the Eastern European countries, and why he always sought
and valued what was good in us, pretending not to see defects.

Professor Sorin Stati had an enormous erudition, as he knew both classical and
modern languages well. You were surprised to see him converse with scholars at
the conferences he organized in some Eastern European languages, almost never
using English (which he knew well), unlike current practice. He wrote books and
papers in Italian, Rumanian, French and, of course, English. The publishers were
always important, such as Il Mulino or PUF, and you wondered how one could
manage to write well in so many different languages. Under his influence I
started to study French. It is amazing that when you see someone do things,
then you find it easy to emulate them.

Professor Sorin Stati wrote widely, as I wrote in my review of his "Fondamenti
di analisi argomentativa", and towards the end of his life he proceeded with a
strong sense of direction to investigating dialogue analysis (as he and his
colleagues called it; his book in his area was "Il Dialogo" (Napoli, Liguori,
1982)), textual linguistics "Cinque miti della parola: lezioni di lessicologia
testuale" (Bologna, Patron, 1986) transphrastic uses of language (Le
Transprastique, Paris, Puf, 1990) and, finally, "Fondamenti di analisi
argomentativa" Bologna, Patron, 2002). He came to such modern disciplines
through syntax (La sintassi, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1976) and semantics (Manuale
di semantica descrittiva, Napoli, Liguori, 1978).

Perhaps his best book was "La sintassi" (Bologna, Il Mulino). It is a pity that
this book is not published in English (but it appears that these ideas were
circulated though a Spanish translation). The book deals with macrostructures at
the syntactic level.

Reading a book of his was a unique experience, since he showed immense
erudition. He always quoted books from America and the English-speaking world
and from Europe (also Eastern Europe) and his bibliographic expertise was

He was (together with Henriette Walter) vice-President of the Society of
Functional Linguistics, when Professor Martinet was the President. He organized
a round table on dialogue analysis at the Prague conference on functional
linguistics. He was close to linguists such as Henriette Walter and Milena
Srpova. However, he also had many friends from Germany and Western Europe. It
was amazing to see all these people feel enchanted when he spoke with kind and
affable words at conferences where they were invited to share their experiences
with others and build up some kind of unitary project. He was able to command
respect and was well loved by all the people who surrounded him.

I cannot forget his speech at a closure party at the conference he organized at
Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris (he already had some health problems there and some
heavy spectacles had accrued to his face). His affability was unparalleled and
people liked to be part of a circle of intellectuals where everybody displayed
such good will (I remember that in those years I sent a paper to Milena Srpova,
which was then finally published in La Linguistique). You could see that the
people whom he invited were special.

Professor Stati organized many conferences with Edda Weigand and Franz
Hundsurscher. These later became to be known as IADA conferences. Professor
Stati was the President of the IADA for many years, until his bad state of
health prevented him from going to its meetings. I think the characteristic of
this association is to advance scholarly contributions to dialogue analysis
without being sectarian. So at this association you would meet scholars from
dialogue analysis/conversation analysis, as well as from other perspectives.

Even if I was not a regular participant in these conferences, I corresponded
with Sorin Stati, who on the telephone happily informed me of the results of the
last conference he presided over, the one in Bucharest. It was and was to be a
triumph, since this was the country where he had held his initial professorship
and where people knew him very well.

To my knowledge this was the last conference he attended. Then, as his health
state deteriorated, he interrupted his various contacts with scholars all over
the world. His friends may have been puzzled by this attitude, but his disease
was not a common one and had the result of amplifying solitude and self-imposed
isolation (not to mention the fact that he could no longer write as he did not
see any longer).

Sorin Stati had the gift of understanding people. When he wrote a preface to my
book entitled "Tra semantica e pragmatica" (Bologna, Clueb) I was surprised that
he could understand my invisible aim: he wrote that I was like a physics
professor he once knew who used to say "When I want to understand a theory, I
write a book about it".

Sorin Stati was a benevolent, patient and constructive teacher. You almost did
not perceive the enormous weight of his erudition, while you always knew that it
was there, in his head. He did not like to show off his erudition and his
teaching was a mixture of affability and severity. But the severity could be
tolerated to a greater extent given his overall positive attitude. As a
researcher he always strived to write original books and he was fascinated by
originality of thought in his students.

In a sense, he was more severe with himself than with his students. It is
amazing that he wrote his final book when he was well into his seventies with
great zeal and a wealth of citations from many obscure languages. Surprisingly,
his book on Principles of Argumentative Analysis (Bologna, Patron, 2002) was
not the last attempt to impress other scholars, but it was a book which he wrote
with his usual self-imposed discipline and rigour. I wrote a review of that book
for the periodical "Argumentation", not as an homage paid to an old friend, but
aware that all those who know of my severity in reviewing books would have
understood how much merit was there.

This man had a talent in discovering talents and in valuing people's various
strong points. Many of the people he encouraged now have professorships in
Europe - some of the Eastern scholars he encouraged now have professorships in
Western Europe. Sometimes it is so important to have a word of encouragement for
other people! He gave trust to so many of us! I remember the telephone machine
saying "I am the secretary friend of the Professor, trust me and leave a
message". That telephone machine has now been off duty for years, but I leave a
final message to this Journal, which I value so much, and give thanks to Sorin
Stati on the part of many young people who met him and were encouraged by him. I
hope it is a comfort for Ivonne, Stati's wife, to hear our usual voices, as she
accompanied him through his life journey. She was always by him to sustain him
by her elegant and strong presence.

There was a beautiful painting of Sorin Stati in one of his rooms in his flat in
Bologna (via delle rose, I think). The beauty of his face was remarkable in that
painting. But that beauty has remained intact in his old age - a miracle which
rarely happens - reflecting the beauty of an inner life.

There are things that remain, that persist, and it is the memory of those who
were always there to help us and to advance a discipline. In the face of this
death, I must say that young scholars, myself included, are amazed to realize
that a great weight has been put on us, a great onus, that of passing on to
others the tradition he passed on to us. While we were listening to his words,
we never thought this moment would arrive. The privilege of his conversation and
the honour of his acquaintance, now that this great void makes itself felt,
compel us to transmit his memory, his methods, his books and, which is most
difficult of all, his immense erudition and affability.

I think Professor Stati would have liked very much to salute his old friends for the
last time and I take a chance to say "Goodbye" to all on the part of Sorin Stati.

Let all of his friends say a prayer for this man, who was also a devout Christian.

Linguistic Field(s): Not Applicable

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