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LINGUIST List 22.1105

Sun Mar 06 2011

All: Obituary: William F. Shipley, 1921-2011

Editor for this issue: Elyssa Winzeler <elyssalinguistlist.org>


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        1.     Eric Bakovic , Obituary: William F. Shipley, 1921-2011

Message 1: Obituary: William F. Shipley, 1921-2011
Date: 05-Mar-2011
From: Eric Bakovic <ebakovicgmail.com>
Subject: Obituary: William F. Shipley, 1921-2011
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It saddens me greatly to report that William F. Shipley passed away on
January 20, 2011. He was 89 years old. Bill was my first linguistics
professor, my first advisor and mentor, my first academic collaborator, and
my dear, dear friend. I already miss him more than I am able to put into words.

Bill completed his dissertation under the direction of Mary Haas at UC
Berkeley in 1959, a grammar of the Native California language Maidu
(published in the University of California Publications in Linguistics
series in 1964, with a dictionary and texts published in 1963). In 1966, he
left an appointment at Berkeley to be among the very first faculty to
participate in the big experiment that UC Santa Cruz was at the time, and
he retired from UCSC in 1991.

Bill’s commitment to documenting and disseminating what he knew about Maidu
language and culture extended well beyond his retirement. 1991 saw the
publication of his edited and translated volume of Maidu myths and stories
(The Maidu Indian Myths and Stories of Hánc’ibyjim), some of which he later
republished in a beautifully illustrated side-by-side Maidu-English format
he had originally wanted. About a decade later, Bill met Kenny Holbrook,
the grandson of Maym Gallagher, the main language consultant for Bill’s
work on his Maidu grammar, texts, and dictionary. Kenny had the aptitude
and motivation to learn Maidu, and so Bill set out to teach him, not only
to speak it but to understand its structure the way Bill did. The story of
Bill’s work with Kenny is told in this 2004 Mother Jones article:
http://motherjones.com/politics/2004/07/keepers-lost-language.

I was fortunate to get to know Bill as well as I did. I was an accidental
undergraduate, with absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. I stumbled into
linguistics, and my first class was with Bill. I was sold on the whole of
academia right then and there: I wanted to teach and impart knowledge like
Bill did, I wanted to advise students like Bill did, and I wanted to care
about what I do like Bill did. Later, when reading and appreciating his
research, I wanted to do that like Bill did, too. Bill somehow saw all this
desire in me and encouraged it. He asked me to be a reader for his courses,
and even to teach one of his class sessions on my own; that’s how I learned
that having to teach something is the best way to learn a lot about it in a
very short amount of time. With his help, I wrote a term paper on Maidu
syntax and he asked me to present it at a workshop; that’s how I learned
how to do research, how to put together a conference abstract and handout,
and how to write up a professional-looking paper.

Bill led by example. I learned things from him that he probably never
imagined he was actually teaching me. Like how to listen to students with
wild and crazy (or possibly even stupid) ideas without making them feel
stupid; in short, how to treat everyone with respect. I also learned from
Bill that a full and meaningful life takes effort: you have to participate
in it to earn it. Bill led that kind of life, he threw himself into it -
and he recalled events vividly, and would retell them if you asked. (And I
always asked because he was such a great storyteller. You can get something
of a sense of Bill’s storytelling abilities - and of his life in general -
here: http://library.ucsc.edu/reg-hist/oir.exhibit/william_shipley)

Now that I’m a parent, I know what Bill’s most important lesson of all was:
how to love your children and enjoy spending time with them. Bill had no
greater love than the love he had for his children Betsy and Michael, and
he showed it in so many ways. I only hope that I can do the same for my own
daughter. I wish she could have known him better, but at least she got to
meet him.

Bill’s UCSC colleague Sandy Chung reminded me of a sign that hung in Bill’s
office, a quotation from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline: 'Golden lads and girls
all must / As chimney sweepers, come to dust.' I’m certain that all of us
who knew Bill are feeling a deep loss with the coming to dust of this
golden lad. But, as Bill sometimes said when there was little else to say,
there you have it.

A memorial page for Bill, to which people can contribute thoughts,
pictures, etc., can be found here: http://ling.ucsc.edu/shipley/

Linguistic Field(s): Not Applicable

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