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LINGUIST List 19.405

Mon Feb 04 2008

All: Obituary: Dr. Eloise Jelinek

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        1.    Heidi Harley, Obituary: Dr. Eloise Jelinek

Message 1: Obituary: Dr. Eloise Jelinek
Date: 02-Feb-2008
From: Heidi Harley <hharleyemail.arizona.edu>
Subject: Obituary: Dr. Eloise Jelinek
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Eloise Jelinek, professor emerita of Linguistics at the University of 
Arizona, died in Tucson, Arizona on December 21st, 2007, after a long illness.

She was born in Dallas, Texas on February 10, 1924. Her life-long passion
for language began during her childhood in Texas where she became fluent in
Spanish. Her passion for linguistics was nurtured at the University of
Michigan where she completed both a BA and MA in Anthropology and Linguistics.

Because of health concerns for her son, Tom, she, and her husband, Arthur
Jelinek, moved to Tucson in 1967. In the middle of the 70’s she was able to
continue graduate studies in linguistics at the newly formed Linguistics
Department at the University of Arizona. She received her doctorate in 1981
under the direction of Adrian Akmajian. Her dissertation title was “On
defining Categories: AUX and Predicate in Egyptian Arabic.” Her knowledge
of Arabic (and also Hebrew) was acquired while doing fieldwork on Egyptian
Arabic during her time at The University of Michigan.

Following her doctorate, she served on the faculty at The University of
Arizona from 1981 to 1992. She taught and spoke extensively around the
world, from Santa Cruz to Prague. She served on committees and organized
workshops for the Linguistic Society of America, for the Society for the
Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas, and for the American
Anthropological Association. She received research grants from the National
Science Foundation, the Jacobs Fund, the Lindley Foundation, the
Wenner-Gren Foundation, the American Philosophical, Charles University, and
the University of Arizona. Following her official “retirement” in 1992,
her activities seemingly only increased, as she organized several
workshops, continued to work on national committees, co-edited three
volumes of collected papers, and, of course, continued to publish her
original research.

Eloise was all that a scientist who studies human language should be:
endlessly fascinated by the complexities of language, constantly seeking to
formulate the explanatory principles that underlie that complexity. From
her dissertation onward, her research represented an optimal marriage
between original ideas and original field data, an example to theoretical
linguists everywhere. She was especially instrumental in demonstrating the
importance of data from endangered and less-studied languages to generative
linguistics, among them the Straits Salish languages Samish and Lummi, as
well as Navajo, Choctaw, and Yaqui.

Her great insight into the human language faculty was founded on her
remarkable ability to grasp the underlying structures of such typologically
diverse languages. Her work advanced in fundamental ways the understanding
of linguistic variation and its relationship to linguistic universals.

One striking thing about Eloise’s research is that her later work was
always an expansion and deepening of her earlier work. She originally was
part of a research team consisting of Adrian Akmajian, Susan Steele, and
Thomas Wasow. The focus of the research of this team was the category AUX
and its role in the syntax of the world’s languages. The AUX was shown to
typically have as constituents subject (and often object) person marking,
tense, aspect, and modality.

Eloise’s Pronominal Argument (PA) Hypothesis (Jelinek 1984) grew directly
out of her research on the AUX category. She proposed that a major
typological distinction among languages such that some languages
obligatorily satisfy their argument positions with pronominals (Pronominal
Argument Languages) and other languages satisfy their argument positions
with nominal constructions (e.g., nouns) (Nominal Argument Languages). What
is important is the set of syntactic consequences that she showed follow
once a language is described as a PA language. Her proposal has been the
foundation of theoretical treatments of nonconfigurational, “head marking”
languages in the literature since it first appeared.

Throughout her career she was most intrigued by phenomena at the
syntax/semantics interface. Quantification in PA languages, the
relationship of discourse structure to syntactic structure, and the
thetic/categorical predication distinction were central foci of her
theoretical work. Especially indicative of her creativity is her analysis
of morphological reduplication in Salish as a type of quantification.

She was also all that a humane scientist should be personally. She was
deeply committed to the communities of speakers who shared their languages
with her. She shared Ken Hale’s vision of native-speaker linguists
describing and analyzing their own languages, and worked extensively to
recruit minority students to the linguistics program at Arizona,
particularly speakers of endangered languages. She supervised Dr. Mary
Willie's doctoral dissertation on Navajo, and also Dr. Fernando Escalante's
doctoral dissertation, the first Ph.D. on the grammar of the Yaqui language
written by a Yaqui speaker. She also collaborated with the Pascua Yaqui
tribe to produce a grammar workbook, and provided training in grammatical
analysis to future language teachers in several workshops organized in the
late 1990s.

She communicated the excitement of linguistic analysis and the beauty of
grammatical structure to all of those with whom she worked. Those of us
lucky enough to have known her will always also remember her sense of humor
and her infallible kindness. With her death we have lost a great linguist,
a steadfast friend, and wonderful human being.

Heidi Harley and Dick Demers

Linguistic Field(s): Not Applicable

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