From: Stephen Anderson <srayale.edu>
Subject: Obituary: Samuel E. Martin
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As promised in LINGUIST List Vol-20-4125, here is a fuller appreciation of the life andcareer of the late Samuel E. Martin. This obituary has been prepared by a former student ofhis, Prof. Robert Ramsey, Professor of East Asian Linguistics at the University ofMaryland.
Samuel E. Martin, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at Yale University, died on November28, 2009, in Vancouver, Washington, at the age of 85. Martin received his A.B. with honorsin Oriental Languages from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1947; his M.A. inOriental Languages from Berkeley in 1949; and his Ph.D. in Linguistics from YaleUniversity in 1950. Like so many of America’s Japanologists in the post-war period, Martinhad worked as a Japanese Language Officer during World War II, and after the war, hestudied Chinese linguistics with Yuen Ren Chao at Berkeley, and Japanese linguistics withBernard Bloch at Yale. The dissertation he wrote on Japanese morphophonemics for hisPh.D. at Yale was judged outstanding enough to be published as a monograph the followingyear in the Linguistic Society of America’s dissertation series.
Martin’s talent for linguistic analysis had by this time drawn considerable attention. In thatstructuralist era, Yale was considered by many to be the premier institution in the UnitedStates for the study of linguistic science, and upon completion of his Ph.D. in 1950, Martinjoined Yale’s illustrious faculty and moved smoothly up the academic ladder, becomingProfessor of Far Eastern Linguistics in 1962.
Martin was already recognized internationally as an authority on Korean as well as onJapanese. In 1951, he published his seminal article in Language on Korean phonemics; in1952, in addition to his dissertation, he published a monograph on Japanese orthography, amonograph on Japanese speech styles, and a Korean reader; in 1954 he produced what wasthen the definitive monograph on Korean morphophonemics. It was also during this earlyperiod of his career, when Martin was only 30 years old, that the President of South Korea,Syngman Rhee, brought Martin to his office for consultation on orthographic reform.Korean is a notoriously difficult language to Romanize, but what is not so well known isthat spellings and word divisions in the Korean alphabet, Hankul, are equally problematic.Rhee turned to Martin, an outsider, for help with these complex problems, and Martin’sfindings and recommendations were published in 1954 in leading Korean dailies in bothKorean and English.
Martin also worked extensively on the problems with how languages are Romanized. In thesame era in which he advised President Rhee on Korean orthography, Martin devised aRomanization system for Korean, which he modestly titled “Yale Romanization”. Theapproach to writing seen in that system, as well as in other systems he devised, was basedupon simple and practical principles. First, Yale Romanization maximizes the transparencyof Korean phonological and morphological structure; for example, word spacing is usedliberally to show junctures. And although Hankul spellings are in most cases transferredeasily into Yale Romanization, Yale transcriptions reflect a few phonemic distinctionsignored in Hankul. Martin recommended that such distinctions be reflected in Hankulspellings as well (that they were not can be attributed more to political than to linguisticconsiderations). Practicality was equally important to Martin, and in devising YaleRomanization he made certain that it could be typed on a QWERTY keyboard without theneed for diacritics, something that was not true of the widely used McCune-Reischauersystem. And so, because of its structural transparency, and because it is so easily typed, Yalesoon became the Korean Romanization preferred by most linguists in Korea as well as in theWest.
Martin’s research and publications in this early period were wide-ranging. In 1953, hepublished a monograph on the phonemes of Ancient Chinese, and he followed that work upin 1957 with an article on Mandarin phonology that is still viewed as a landmark ofstructuralist methodology. In 1961 he published the results of an extensive research projecton Dagur Mongolian; the Dagur monograph, which contains a grammatical analysis and alexicon together with texts, is still the most comprehensive source of information about thatvariety of Mongolian. Working with native speakers of yet another language, he found timefor a research project on a little-known variety of Ryukyuan, the findings of which he wroteup in a 40-page article published in 1970 called “Shodon: a dialect of the northernRyukyus”. Martin wrote on Japanese and Korean linguistics of course, but he also wrotereviews and articles on Semitic, Thai, Uralic, and structuralist theory; he wrote anencyclopedia article on Japanese literature and a review of Donald Keene’s anthology ofJapanese literature; he compiled Korean and Japanese textbooks, readers, and dictionaries; hecoauthored a Chinese character dictionary. The Manual of Japanese writing, which he co-authored with Hamako Ito Chaplin, is full of not only good pedagogical sense but alsoinsightful ideas about juncture, pauses, and pitch accent in modern standard Japanese.
Some of Martin’s most influential articles were written in the 1960s. The most famous oneis undoubtedly his 1966 Language article “Lexical evidence relating Korean to Japanese”, awork that has formed the basis for historical comparisons ever since. The two languages hadoften been compared before that, but Martin’s article represented by far the most systematicand professional application of the comparative method to Korean and Japanese. It changedthe suggestion that the two languages are genetically related into a serious hypothesis. Butthere were other gems that, although less heralded, have been almost equally influential.For example, his 1962 article on sound symbolism in Korean explored a rich avenue ofresearch that has since attracted considerable attention among phonologists; his 1964 article,“Speech styles in Japan and Korea”, has also been included in many bibliographies and onmany reading lists. These were subject matters Martin examined with more professionalismthan almost anyone before him.
Through the ascendant years of transformational grammar, Martin’s research deepened. Hehad always been concerned more about facts and data than theory, and as his files anddatabases grew, he organized his findings and data into volumes that have had an enduringusefulness. In those volumes, he was thoroughly eclectic, taking ideas and analyses from allsources (including all branches of TG) and using whatever gave the most reasonable andelegant explanation for the facts. The facts were often untidy, and most explanations,however elegant, left loose ends; Martin always included those exceptions in his narrative sothat anyone with a better explanation would be free to use them.
Perhaps Martin’s greatest work remains his matchless Reference grammar of Japanese,published by Yale Press in 1975 and more recently reissued by Hawaii University Press. In1977, in his plenary address at the Linguistic Society of America’s Summer Institute inHonolulu, Susumu Kuno judged that: “In another decade, there will only be three works onJapanese grammar from our time that anyone will remember ... and those are: Jorden’s andAlfonso’s textbooks, and Martin’s Reference grammar of Japanese.” As it turned out,Kuno’s prediction was not too far from the mark. Martin’s book remains today the bestsource of information there is about Japanese grammar, and it does not look like it will bereplaced by anything in the foreseeable future.
The Japanese language through time, published in 1987, represents the continuation andculmination of this Japanese research. Most of the volume consists of etymological lexiconsand lists of forms and bibliographic references indispensable to historical research on thelanguage.
Beginning in the 1950s, Martin also maintained extensive files on Korean grammar andlanguage history. While completing his grammar of Japanese, Martin’s grammar of Koreanremained in draft form; by the time A reference grammar of Korean was ready forpublication in 1992, it had been transformed largely into a historical reference to reflectMartin’s research of more recent decades. Some of the same files used for the grammarformed much of the foundation of his Korean-English dictionary; that dictionary, firstpublished by Yale Press in 1968, was picked up later by a succession of Korean publishers.The dictionary is still a basic reference work, distinguished by the accuracy and idiomaticityof its English glosses and translations, and by the inclusion of etymologies for native wordswhen known.
Sometime in the 1980s, Martin began full-time research on Middle Korean. This body ofalphabetic texts from the 15th and 16th centuries contains some of the best pre-modernrecords of any language in the world, but it is also filled with innumerable linguisticpuzzles. Martin immediately set about analyzing and cataloging the data in this extensivecorpus by reading and examining the texts one by one. In addition, however, he nowemployed technological tools not available to him in his earlier works. From his good friendand colleague the anthropologist Harold Conklin, Martin got his hands on software formanaging and retrieving data and began recording data in this new format. In the decadesthat followed, he methodically read through most of the important Middle Korean texts,screening each passage for structures and examples to add to his database.
The importance and usefulness of the Middle Korean corpus can be seen in his 1992reference grammar of Korean, especially the 500-page grammatical lexicon that forms Part2 of the work. Each Middle Korean example contained in the lexicon is transcribed inRomanization with all the phonological information, including pitches, found in the originaltext, and it is translated into idiomatic English. This kind of information cannot be foundanywhere else. The Middle Korean database is also the resource upon which Martin’s 1996monograph Consonant lenition in Korean and the Macro-Altaic question primarily draws itsinformation. The size of this little volume (163 pages) belies its importance. It is not asummary of received wisdom, nor is it a restatement of his earlier work; in it, Martin offersnew suggestions about earlier Korean. Moreover, the interested reader should not skipreading the endnotes; that section is almost as long as the basic text, and it is just asimportant.
Sam Martin retired from teaching in 1994 and moved to a new home in the state ofWashington, near British Columbia, where his wife Nancy had grown up. The new homewas even closer to the Portland, Oregon campus where his daughter Norah teachesphilosophy and is now an associate dean. (Son James, a mechanical engineer at GeorgiaTech, lives far away, in Atlanta.) Freed from teaching and administrative responsibilities,Martin immersed himself even more deeply in his research, especially the cataloging ofMiddle Korean forms. In the decade and a half after retirement, Martin formed andarticulated a variety of new ideas, some of which ran counter to received wisdom, and somewere even in conflict with positions he himself had taken earlier. What was unfailinglyconsistent, though, was that no matter what position he took on any issue, the data,including exceptions, were always laid out for the reader in their entirety.
In 1994, Martin was presented the Presidential Medal of Honor by the Republic of Korea,and at the ceremony, I was asked to speak on behalf of his students. I chose to readsomething Mr. Martin himself had written in the introduction to his reference grammar ofKorean, which at the time had just been published:
“This book is not trying to prove a theory about the nature of language. I do not maintainthat the structure of a language is either discoverable or describable in one and only one“correct”, or even uniquely “best” way. The criteria for judging a description vary with thepurpose for which it is intended. For a reference grammar the most important criterion isbalanced completeness. As much useful information as possible must be given in a form thatmakes it readily accessible to the user. The information that is most often, or most sorely,needed should be the easiest to get at. Lists are not to be scorned; formulas are not to beworshipped. Economy of statement is a technical criterion relevant to the accessibility of theinformation; elegance of statement is a psychological criterion relevant to the impact of theinformation.” (p.3)
To me, this statement articulates best the philosophy with which Martin practiced linguistics.The perspective he brought to the discipline, the emphasis he placed on usefulness, and thedistance he maintained from the pretense of theory - these are the earmarks of a linguisticsmore subtle and lasting than that practiced only in the pursuit of universals. Martin’slinguistics is the kind of scholarship appreciated by those who understand and value thestudy of language.
A reasonably complete bibliography of Martin’s works can be found on pp. 267-72 of aFestschrift volume, “In Honor of Samuel E. Martin”, of Japanese Language and Literature,Volume 38, Number 2, October 2004.
- Robert Ramsey