LINGUIST List 13.1718

Mon Jun 17 2002

All: Obituary, W. Nelson Francis

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  • Pauline Jacobson, W. Nelson Francis

    Message 1: W. Nelson Francis

    Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2002 12:41:00 +0000
    From: Pauline Jacobson <>
    Subject: W. Nelson Francis

    I am sorry to report the death of W. Nelson Francis this past Friday (June 14). Nelson died at home in Providence, at the age of 91.

    Nelson taught at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa until coming to the Department of Lingusitics at Brown in 1962. He was instrumental in the building of linguistics at Brown, and was Chair of the department until 1968 until 1975. After "retiring" in 1975 he nonetheless continued to be active in the department, and in 1987 we drafted him to come back and be Chair of the Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences. He continued to teach historical linguistics at Brown until the early 1990's, when we finally let him "retire" a second time. But he continued to be active in the field until quite recently - doing research, attending conferences, and writing book reviews for the journal Language.

    Nelson was the co-creator - with Henry Kucera - of the Brown Corpus. This pioneering work was instrumental in the development of the field of Corpus Linguistics, and has had a major impact on the research directions and techniques in Computational linguistics. Nelson was also a leading expert on the history of English and on Dialectology, and was author of, among others, The Structure of American English; The English Language: An Introduction; and Dialectology: An Introduction.

    He was a true "Renaissance man" with a variety of interests. He was an avid sailor, and lived for many years on the Narragansett Bay where he regularly sailed. He was also a member of Save the Bay, the NAACP, and the Urban League of Rhode Island, and was president of the Providence Shakespearean Society from 1986 to 1990.

    Nelson had a great joie-de-vivre, and was a wonderful colleague and a wonderful man. He is survived by his wife Nearlene, two sons, a daughter, and two grandchildren. There will be a memorial service held at a later date.