LINGUIST List 23.4811

Mon Nov 19 2012

All: Obituary: Michael Dobrovolsky

Editor for this issue: Kristen Dunkinson <>

Date: 16-Nov-2012
From: Sean Fulop <>
Subject: Obituary: Michael Dobrovolsky
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On October 22, 2012 Dr. Michael Dobrovolsky, a linguistics professor at the University of Calgary from 1980 - 2007, passed away peacefully after a long, dignified and private bout with cancer.

Michael completed his doctorate in linguistics at the University of Toronto in 1980. His thesis, supervised by Pierre Leon, was entitled "On intonation: functional, emotive, phonological." Michael would sometimes recall fondly his association with Martin Joos at the University of Toronto, and perhaps considered Joos as a model for his own professional life. Michael also had training as a musician and musicologist from his collegiate days, which helped him see the major issues in linguistics from a broad perspective.

For many years, Michael was a fixture in his lab in the basement of the University of Calgary's Social Sciences building, where the history of the field came alive for students, with drum spectrographs and reel-to-reel machines on display alongside more contemporary technologies. In the early 90s he moved his lab up to the 8th floor, to a room with windows. One never knew whether one would be favoured with Chuvash geminates, non-human primate pant-hoots, or little-known opera arias. Michael devoted much of his time on campus to helping graduate students make headway on their research projects, and generally sharing the many facets of his linguistics expertise with them.

Undergraduate teaching held a special place in Michael's professional life. He set the highest possible standards for himself and his students. His dedication to teaching culminated in the creation of the introductory linguistics text Contemporary Linguistic Analysis, which he co-edited, and partly coauthored, with William O'Grady (initially also at the University of Calgary, now at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa). This text has been influential around the world and is still in press - currently going into its 8th edition. Through this project, Michael's influence will live on.

In his own research, Michael focused on phonetics (both physiological and acoustic) and its relation to phonology, especially in the area of stress and accent. His language focus in the latter area was on Turkic, particularly Turkish and Chuvash. He conducted valuable fieldwork on these languages in Turkey and Russia. Some of this important unpublished work may become publicly available in time, including his expert translation of Nikolai Ashmarin's Chuvash language materials (1897-98). Michael also created the enduring University of Calgary Phonetic Inventory.

Those who wish to might consider making a donation to the Michael Dobrovolsky Undergraduate Linguistics Award here:
This annual award was inaugurated on the occasion of Michael's retirement in 2007.

Michael leaves behind his three sons Sasha, Kiril and Mitya, his daughter-in-law Shinmin, and his two granddaughters Mila and Nikola. He also leaves behind many friends who will remember him with admiration and fondness - as a teacher, a colleague, a diligent reader of the New Yorker, and a fan of Major League Baseball. His unique character recalls for us these lines from Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

-Darin Flynn, Sean Fulop, John Archibald and Martha McGinnis

Linguistic Field(s): Not Applicable

Page Updated: 19-Nov-2012