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LINGUIST List 22.4399

Sat Nov 05 2011

All: Obituary: Melissa Bowerman

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


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        1.     Eve Clark, Dan Slobin , Obituary: Melissa Bowerman


Message 1: Obituary: Melissa Bowerman
Date: 03-Nov-2011
From: Eve Clark, Dan Slobin <slobinberkeley.edu>
Subject: Obituary: Melissa Bowerman
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Dear friends and colleagues,

It's with great personal sadness that I announce the death of Melissa
Bowerman, on 31 October 2011, in Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

For the past forty years Melissa Bowerman has been a central force in the
field of child language development, contributing influential data and theory
on the relations between language and cognition in both children and
adults. She was one of the first to look closely at what children's errors
could reveal about semantic development and published classic studies of
her own children's causative verbs and prepositional choices in locative
constructions. What she discovered from her analyses was that children
extract systematic but quite abstract patterns in the semantic structure of
the language being acquired. Moreover, some errors emerge rather late,
after a period of apparently correct usage. This strongly suggested that
children don't come to language with ready-made meanings to attach to
word-forms. Rather, they have to discover those patterns first and then put
them to use.

Bowerman was always interdisciplinary in her work: she drew on findings
from developmental psychology, cognitive and linguistic anthropology, and
linguistics. She was a pioneer in the use of experimental and ethnographic
data, across a range of languages, as she examined how language
shapes both cognitive and linguistic development in the young child, and
how different languages subtly influence adult categorization of such spatial
relations as containment and support.

She was an innovator in the methods she used in her research, using
correspondence analysis and multidimensional scaling to analyze data as
she explored the conceptual bases of semantic categories. She made
especially important contributions in her research on spatial cognition and
language, linguistic argument structure, event representation, and
children's emerging linguistic expressions of causality. On the theoretical
side, she always sought to disentangle what might be innate from what
could be learned in first language acquisition, and her insights as well as
her findings cast new light on typology, language universals, and human
cognition. Throughout her life, she focussed on how individual languages
could have particular effects on the course and content of language
development, and what the implications were for adult mental life.

Melissa Bowerman had a perpetually inquiring mind, and was fascinated by
all kinds of domains -- from birds, plants, knots, and dreams to her flute
music. She would always find a new angle on the domain under discussion
and pursue it with curiosity and interest, so lunchtimes at the Max-Planck-
Institute of Psycholinguistics where she spent most of her professional life,
were a constant source of enjoyment for whoever was there. She was
modest, generous, lucid, and always scholarly in her approach.

She is survived by her husband Wijbrandt van Schuur, her three
daughters--Christy, Eva, and Claartje--and four grandchildren.

Eve V. Clark
Stanford University
President, International Association for the Study of Child Language

And an added personal note from Dan Slobin:

Melissa and I were good personal friends and colleagues—ever since 1965.
We cherished our memories of being trained by Roger Brown, and we
taught, researched, and published together on crosslinguistic and cognitive
aspects of acquisition. I learned so much from debating and researching
with her. Indeed, her persistent presentations to me of argument and
evidence moved me from a neo-innatist to a neo-Whorfian position. The
Max Planck was our intellectual playground, and baroque music was where
we wandered happily. We confided in each other and received and gave
support through the many years, as we followed each other's lives. And we
delighted in playing music together—her flute and my piano. She was a
precious person, a loyal friend, and an endlessly ingenious, creative, broad,
wise, and beautiful thinker, researcher, writer, teacher. I can't begin to
understand how very much I will miss her.

Dan I. Slobin
University of California, Berkeley
Member, International Association for the Study of Child Language

Linguistic Field(s): Not Applicable


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