LINGUIST List 23.4410|
Mon Oct 22 2012
All: Obituary: Robert L. Cooper
Editor for this issue: Kristen Dunkinson
From: Bernard Spolsky <bspolskygmail.com>
Subject: Obituary: Robert L. Cooper
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It is with great sadness that we learn of the death on Friday October 19
2012 of Robert L. Cooper, formerly professor at the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem, after a long illness.
His classic book, *Language planning and social change*, first published
by Cambridge University Press in 1989, is at the moment being translated
into Chinese, a clear sign that his work is still widely appreciated.
Although Cooper retired from his professorship at the Hebrew University
shortly after its publication and spent the next two decades on activities
other than sociolinguistics, his book has continued to introduce those
fortunate enough to read it to the field of language policy.
The book selects four examples of language policy, analyzes them, and uses
them as the basis for an exploration of the social conditions for language
management. The four cases he chose are significant ones: the foundation of
Académie française, the re-establishment of Hebrew as a vital vernacular in
Palestine, the contemporary efforts to modify the chauvinism of grammatical
gender, and the program to establish mass literacy in Ethiopia. On this
basis, he set out the nature of the major processes of classical language
planning - the management of the status of a language variety, its
cultivation for the required purposes, and (a new element in the analysis
of the field) the development of language teaching policy.
Trained originally as an educational psychologist, Cooper essentially
mapped the sociolinguistic aspects of educational linguistics, showing the
need to incorporate social dimensions in the notion of language ability,
and spelling out the place of language educational policy (which he labeled
"language acquisition planning") as a critical element in the social
changes associated with language planning and management.
After undergraduate training at Harvard and graduate study at the
University of Pennsylvania, he studied educational psychology with R.L.
Thorndike and W. MacGinitie at Teachers College and Columbia. From 1966-8,
he worked with Joshua Fishman, one of the founders of the sociology of
language and still its leading scholar, on the epoch-making study of
bilingualism and diglossia in the Jersey City *barrio.* His seminal paper
"An elaborated language testing model" drew on that experience. It was the
first clear statement that language testing and teaching needed to take
into account the communicative competence proposed by Dell Hymes rather
than the rigorous but more narrowly focussed notion of linguistic
competence being popularized by Noam Chomsky and his followers.
Cooper then spent a year with the pioneering Ford Foundation sponsored
study of language in Ethiopia. There, along with Charles Ferguson, J.
Donald Bowen and M. L. Bender, he helped sketch the goals for language
policy and language education in a complex multilingual society.
After spells of teaching at Yeshiva University, Stanford University, and
California State University, Cooper moved to Israel in 1972 to join Fishman
again for the first major study of the spread of English. He remained in
Israel, and for the rest of his academic career, he was a professor in both
education and sociology at the Hebrew University, where he trained students
and carried out sociolinguistic research that helped bridge the fields of
sociolinguistics and education.
In the late 1970s, he co-edited two key collections of papers on bilingual
education. He also took part in a study for the Israeli Defense Forces of
language testing as part of his reserve army duties, finding this more
congenial than the guarding of buildings he would otherwise have been
required to do.
In 1982, he edited a pioneering collection on *Language Spread *that had
been presented at an international conference in 1978. Continuing his study
of urban sociolinguistics, he co-directed between 1983 and 1986 a
sociolinguistic survey of the Old City of Jerusalem; the result was
published in 1991 by Clarendon Press as a book with the title *The
Languages of Jerusalem*.
Cooper's magisterial *Language planning and social change (*Cambridge
University Press 1989) rounded out a career of research and publications
that has established the key relationships between sociolinguistics and
educational linguistics. It marks the high point of classical language
policy studies, preparing the way for studies that move to domains other
After his retirement, he decided he had spent enough time on
sociolinguistics, and set out to satisfy his desire for travel by retracing
the 1895 voyage around the world of Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens),
traveling where possible by ship, visiting the sites where Mark Twain
lectured and finding in the local libraries newspaper accounts of his
visits. The result was another book, *Around the world with Mark Twain*,
published in 2000 by Arcade Publishing.
For the last few years, Cooper and his wife Alice lived in Brooklyn, New
York, where he could be close to his children and grandchildren. But he did
not stop writing: he ventured into the newest medium, and his blog *Anchises:
an old man's journal* appeared on the Internet three times a week until
illness finally intervened.
Bender, M. Lionel, J. Donald Bowen, Robert L. Cooper, and Charles A.
Ferguson, (ed.) (1976). *Language in Ethiopia*. London: Oxford University
Cooper, Robert L. (1968). An elaborated language testing model. *Language
Learning* (Special issue No. 7): 57-72.
Cooper, Robert L. (Ed.). (1982). *Language Spread: Studies in diffusion and
social change*. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Cooper, Robert L. (1984). A framework for the description of language
spread: the case of modern Hebrew. *International Social Science
Journal*36 ( 1): 87-112.
Cooper, Robert L. (1989). *Language planning and social change*.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fishman, Joshua A., Robert L. Cooper, and A.W. Conrad (1977). *The spread
of English: the sociology of English as an additional language*. Rowley,
Mass.: Newbury House.
Fishman, Joshua A., Robert L. Cooper, and Roxana Ma (1971). *Bilingualism
in the barrio*. Bloomington: Research Center for the Language Sciences,
Spolsky, Bernard, and Robert L. Cooper, (ed.) (1977). *Frontiers of
bilingual education*. Rowley, MA.: Newbury House Publishers.
Spolsky, Bernard, and Robert L. Cooper (1991). *The languages of Jerusalem*.
Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Linguistic Field(s): Not Applicable
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