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LINGUIST List 20.4130

Thu Dec 03 2009

All: Obituary: Ben Elson

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        1.    Michael Cahill, Obituary: Ben Elson

Message 1: Obituary: Ben Elson
Date: 02-Dec-2009
From: Michael Cahill <mike_cahillsil.org>
Subject: Obituary: Ben Elson
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Dr. Benjamin Elson (Ben Elson to most) of SIL International passed away
early Friday morning, Nov. 27, after spending Thanksgiving day with his
family. His scholarly work was mostly devoted to Sierra Popoluca, for which
he produced a number of papers and in 2000, a Popoluca-Spanish dictionary.
Ben Elson was perhaps best known in the linguistics world for ''An
Introduction to Morphology and Syntax'', co-authored with Velma Picket,
published in both English and Spanish, and widely used in introductory
syntax courses. He also wrote a ''Linguistic Creed'' in 1987 that summed up
SIL's philosophy of working with languages
(http://www.sil.org/sil/linguistic_creed.htm). A complete bibliography of
his published works is found at
(http://www.ethnologue.com/show_author.asp?auth=2314).

Ben was born on December 8, 1921 in Burbank, CA. His early years were spent
mostly in California, although his family also lived in Colorado and
Arizona for a short time. He attended Biola University and was first
exposed to SIL's work when Cameron Townsend and Eugene Nida spoke there,
and Adelle, who Ben was then engaged to, suggested they talk to Townsend.
In 1942 Ben attended SIL at the University of Oklahoma and joined SIL at
the age of 20! After the session, Ben went to Mexico and when Adelle
arrived in January, they were married. They took their assignment with the
Popoluca people and lived there from 1943-1953. During their time with the
Popolucas, the published reading primers, some story books, and some Scripture.

Besides working with the Popolucas, each summer from 1946 to 1958, Ben and
Adelle were on SIL staff in Norman, OK. Ben got his BA degree from Seattle
Pacific College during their furlough in 1949-1950 at Seattle Pacific
College. In 1952 he went to the Linguistic Institute at Indiana University.
He then attended Cornell University and received his PhD in 1956, with a
dissertation titled ''Sierra Popoluca Morphology.'' The Elsons were
involved in starting the SIL summer program at the University of
Washington, where Ben was director until 1968.

He was elected Director of SIL's Mexico Branch in 1957, and continued in
that position until January 1965. In 1966 he was appointed Executive
Director of SIL and held the post until 1975. In 1976, he taught at SIL in
Charlotte, NC and then again directed the course in Norman, OK from 1977
until the mid 1980s. They also returned to the Mexico branch during this
time. In 1980 he again was elected as Mexico director for two years. During
this time the Elsons rejoined the Sierra Popoluca program, and Ben produced
the Popoluca-Spanish dictionary, published in 2000. In 1989 they became
retired volunteers and fully retired in 1998.

Ben was a knowledgeable and respected leader who knew the history of SIL
well. He was very adept at thinking through the principles and policies of
the organization and finding good solutions for complex issues of the times.

Ben’s living legacy includes Adelle, his wife of 67 years; sons Lee, Steve
(wife Jennifer), and Tom (wife Janie); daughter Sally Elson Harvey
(husband, Mike); and brother Bill Elson. There are fourteen grandchildren
and sixteen great-grandchildren.

A memorial service to celebrate the life of Dr. Benjamin Elson was held
Tuesday, December 1st at the Townsend Center at JAARS. Davis Funeral
Service is serving the family of Dr. Elson. An on-line guest register book
is available at www.davisfuneralservice.com (click on ''Obituaries'').

Also, SIL's Mexico Branch center near Tucson will be having a time of
remembrance for Ben on Friday, Dec. 11th. If you will not be able to
attend, you may e-mail your remembrances to execsec_mexicosil.org to be
shared with the group.

Linguistic Field(s): Not Applicable

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