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LINGUIST List 23.3586

Mon Aug 27 2012

All: Obituary: Rajendra Singh

Editor for this issue: Kristen Dunkinson <kristenlinguistlist.org>

Date: 27-Aug-2012
From: Probal Dasgupta <probal53gmail.com>
Subject: Obituary: Rajendra Singh
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One of the major practitioners of the linguistics discipline, Rajendra
Singh, passed away on Friday 24 August 2012 in Montreal. He was
sixty-nine. Otto Ikome called to give me the sad news. Raj had been
suffering from cancer.

With Otto's help, I was able to have a telephonic conversation with Raj
about a month ago; he sounded upbeat, and I had been hoping he
would indeed have something close to a full recovery. But our hopes
were dashed.

The basic facts of Rajendra Singh's career may need to be rehearsed,
as younger linguists may not have met him or read his work. After his
Ph.D. in Linguistics at Brown University, Raj joined the Universite de
Montreal in 1972, and stayed on. His 1987 article 'Well-formedness
conditions and phonological theory' (Wolfgang Dressler et al. [eds]
Phonologica 1984, 273-285) was a much-cited landmark paper that
helped change the course of phonology. When the paradigm shift took
place, the architects of Optimality Theory gave explicit credit to Raj.
After formulating his theory of Generative Phonotactics, Raj focused
his attention on morphology, and was able to place his approach,
Whole Word Morphology, firmly on the map. While
those responsible for one of the more influential theories of
morphology -- Distributed Morphology -- acknowledge the affinity
between their own work and Raj's and even their debt to him (Alec
Marantz, p.c. in 1997), his contribution to phonology met with
unreserved acceptance. Raj's morphological work will receive a
rigorous second hearing when the community comes to grips with the
morphology-syntax interface with more seriousness than it has been
able to muster at this stage.

Both Raj's phonology and his morphology owed a great deal to crucial
fellow workers who were lifelong friends of his -- David Stampe, Alan
Ford, Stanley Starosta. But the specific implementation we find in the
formalizations of Generative Phonotactics and Whole Word
Morpholgy carried the stamp of Raj's own distinctive style of thought
and expression.

There is a lot more to say; I am focusing on core linguistics because of
his own priorities; but his contributions to 'sociolinguistics', to that which
is spoken by 'non-native speakers of English', to 'applied linguistics' (he
had serious problems with the terms, and with the thought that these
areas of inquiry could be validly regarded as distinct disciplines)
include major cult classics which are highly regarded by colleagues
interested in those matters. It is impossible even at the best of times to
weave a single coherent narrative about Raj's contribution to all the
fields he took an interest in. And this is hardly the best of times. I am in
shock, personally. Raj and I were very close. I hope readers will forgive
me for any omissions or errors in this message.


Best

Probal

Probal Dasgupta
Linguistic Research Unit
Indian Statistical Institute
203 Barrackpore Trunk Road
Kolkata 700108, India


Linguistic Field(s): Not Applicable

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