LINGUIST List 23.4410
Mon Oct 22 2012
All: Obituary: Robert L. Cooper
Editor for this issue: Kristen Dunkinson
Bernard Spolsky <bspolsky
Obituary: Robert L. Cooper
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It is with great sadness that we learn of the death on Friday October 192012 of Robert L. Cooper, formerly professor at the Hebrew University ofJerusalem, after a long illness.
His classic book, *Language planning and social change*, first publishedby Cambridge University Press in 1989, is at the moment being translatedinto Chinese, a clear sign that his work is still widely appreciated.Although Cooper retired from his professorship at the Hebrew Universityshortly after its publication and spent the next two decades on activitiesother than sociolinguistics, his book has continued to introduce thosefortunate enough to read it to the field of language policy.
The book selects four examples of language policy, analyzes them, and usesthem as the basis for an exploration of the social conditions for languagemanagement. The four cases he chose are significant ones: the foundation ofAcadémie française, the re-establishment of Hebrew as a vital vernacular inPalestine, the contemporary efforts to modify the chauvinism of grammaticalgender, and the program to establish mass literacy in Ethiopia. On thisbasis, he set out the nature of the major processes of classical languageplanning - the management of the status of a language variety, itscultivation for the required purposes, and (a new element in the analysisof the field) the development of language teaching policy.
Trained originally as an educational psychologist, Cooper essentiallymapped the sociolinguistic aspects of educational linguistics, showing theneed 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 socialchanges associated with language planning and management.
After undergraduate training at Harvard and graduate study at theUniversity 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 oflanguage and still its leading scholar, on the epoch-making study ofbilingualism and diglossia in the Jersey City *barrio.* His seminal paper"An elaborated language testing model" drew on that experience. It was thefirst clear statement that language testing and teaching needed to takeinto account the communicative competence proposed by Dell Hymes ratherthan the rigorous but more narrowly focussed notion of linguisticcompetence being popularized by Noam Chomsky and his followers.
Cooper then spent a year with the pioneering Ford Foundation sponsoredstudy of language in Ethiopia. There, along with Charles Ferguson, J.Donald Bowen and M. L. Bender, he helped sketch the goals for languagepolicy and language education in a complex multilingual society.
After spells of teaching at Yeshiva University, Stanford University, andCalifornia State University, Cooper moved to Israel in 1972 to join Fishmanagain for the first major study of the spread of English. He remained inIsrael, and for the rest of his academic career, he was a professor in botheducation and sociology at the Hebrew University, where he trained studentsand carried out sociolinguistic research that helped bridge the fields ofsociolinguistics and education.
In the late 1970s, he co-edited two key collections of papers on bilingualeducation. He also took part in a study for the Israeli Defense Forces oflanguage testing as part of his reserve army duties, finding this morecongenial than the guarding of buildings he would otherwise have beenrequired to do.
In 1982, he edited a pioneering collection on *Language Spread *that hadbeen presented at an international conference in 1978. Continuing his studyof urban sociolinguistics, he co-directed between 1983 and 1986 asociolinguistic survey of the Old City of Jerusalem; the result waspublished in 1991 by Clarendon Press as a book with the title *TheLanguages of Jerusalem*.
Cooper's magisterial *Language planning and social change (*CambridgeUniversity Press 1989) rounded out a career of research and publicationsthat has established the key relationships between sociolinguistics andeducational linguistics. It marks the high point of classical languagepolicy studies, preparing the way for studies that move to domains otherthan governmental.
After his retirement, he decided he had spent enough time onsociolinguistics, and set out to satisfy his desire for travel by retracingthe 1895 voyage around the world of Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens),traveling where possible by ship, visiting the sites where Mark Twainlectured and finding in the local libraries newspaper accounts of hisvisits. 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, NewYork, where he could be close to his children and grandchildren. But he didnot 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 untilillness finally intervened.
Bender, M. Lionel, J. Donald Bowen, Robert L. Cooper, and Charles A.Ferguson, (ed.) (1976). *Language in Ethiopia*. London: Oxford UniversityPress.
Cooper, Robert L. (1968). An elaborated language testing model. *LanguageLearning* (Special issue No. 7): 57-72.
Cooper, Robert L. (Ed.). (1982). *Language Spread: Studies in diffusion andsocial change*. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Cooper, Robert L. (1984). A framework for the description of languagespread: the case of modern Hebrew. *International Social ScienceJournal*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 spreadof English: the sociology of English as an additional language*. Rowley,Mass.: Newbury House.
Fishman, Joshua A., Robert L. Cooper, and Roxana Ma (1971). *Bilingualismin the barrio*. Bloomington: Research Center for the Language Sciences,Indiana University.
Spolsky, Bernard, and Robert L. Cooper, (ed.) (1977). *Frontiers ofbilingual 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
Page Updated: 22-Oct-2012