LINGUIST List 25.2088

Mon May 12 2014

All: Obituary: Robert E Longacre (1922-2014)

Editor for this issue: Sarah Fox <>

Date: 08-May-2014
From: Brian Migliazza <>
Subject: Obituary: Robert E Longacre (1922-2014)
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Robert E Longacre
13 August 1922 to 20 April 2014

Bob Longacre passed away on 20 April 2014 at the age of 91. He joined SIL in 1946 and served 55 years till retiring in 2001. He was a great teacher and excellent mentor, helping many to push their papers on through to publication. Bob will be fondly remembered as a man with a brilliant mind and a relentless, cheerful wit. SIL’s service to the world’s ethnolinguistic communities has been significantly impacted by his expertise in linguistics and translation. Thousands of field linguists have learned to deal with the mysteries of the languages they studied through Bob's teaching and textbooks on grammar, syntax and discourse.

Best known for his research and publications in discourse analysis (text linguistics), Longacre’s interest in language began with the Latin course he took as a high school freshman. As a college student, he heard Eugene Nida speak about linguistics and decided to participate in SIL’s summer training program in Norman, Oklahoma, where he was introduced to methods of linguistic analysis and self-directed language learning. Due to a severe stuttering problem (finally overcome through a painful experimental therapy in the 1950s), he was drawn to work that would involve writing rather than public speaking, little knowing that his career would include delivering lectures to hundreds of students and professional linguists.

In addition to his work in text linguistics, he also made significant contributions in other linguistic areas, especially ''Grammar'' and the ''Mixtec-Trique Comparative Work.'' He started out following Ken Pike’s tagmemics, developed his own twist on it, and then when he was completely into discourse, developed his own specific approach to discourse analysis, fully expounded in “The Grammar of Discourse” book.

Born in Akron, Ohio on August 13th, 1922, he attended Houghton College in upper New York State where he met his wife, Gwen. They both graduated in 1943 and after getting married in 1946 they began serving with SIL in Mexico. In early 1947 they settled in a remote village in the mountains of Oaxaca State to begin research and language development in a Trique-speaking community. Living in the village provided an opportunity for the Longacres to observe and record some of the unique cultural practices of the region before the construction of a highway which would lead to greater contact with the wider world and bring many changes to the community’s way of life. Bob devoted his time in the village to learning and analyzing the language and worked in partnership with the community to produce several pieces of vernacular literature, including the translation of the New Testament into Trique.

During this time Bob also completed his PhD (1955) at the University of Pennsylvania under Zellig Harris and Henry Hoenigswald. His 1955 dissertation on Proto-Mixtecan was the first extensive linguistic reconstruction in Mesoamerican languages. This was one of several SIL studies which helped to establish the Oto-Manguean language family as being comparable in time depth to Proto-Indo-European. His research on Trique was the first documented case of a language with five distinct levels of tone. In carrying out this research, Longacre was fulfilling one of the dreams of SIL’s founder, William Cameron Townsend, who hoped to see SIL linguists complete comparative studies of the languages of Mexico and Central America in order to map out the relationships of these languages. A generation of comparative linguists built on this foundation.

He was the founder and editor of the ''Journal of Translation and Textlinguistics.'' He was Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas at Arlington, where he taught Linguistics for over 20 years (1972-1993), mostly on topics related to his approach to discourse analysis. He supervised many MA and PhD students as a member of their thesis and dissertation committees. In 1994-1995, he served as President of the Linguistic Association of Canada and the United States (LACUS) and was honored by LACUS in 2007. Bob's work as a consultant and instructor took him to many countries in Central and South America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Ever enthusiastic about the unique qualities of the languages and cultures he encountered, Longacre’s input and encouragement was the catalyst for the publication of countless papers by colleagues and friends. A number of respected linguists contributed to the 1992 festschrift ''Language in context: Essays for Robert E. Longacre.''

He enjoyed joking with his students. He used to call his book ''The Grammar of this Course'' and Joseph E Grimes's book ''The Threat of this Course.'' Also an inveterate punster, he delighted in word plays of all kinds, such as: Tricky (Trique) and The Great Mistake (Mixtec).

Shin Ja J. Hwang edited a 2010 book, ''The Development of Textlinguistics in the Writings of Robert Longacre,'' (423 pgs) that brings together Bob’s articles on text linguistics and discourse analysis scattered through many journals and books. Longacre himself carefully selected these fifteen papers on his theory and its application that were published during the twenty-five years between 1979 and 2004.

He was academically sharp and active till the end, working on a new book that is to come out just later this year:

2014 (to appear). Robert Longacre & Andrew Bowling. Understanding Biblical Hebrew Verb Forms: Distribution and Function across Genres. Dallas: SIL International.

Preceded in death by Gwen (2009), his wife of sixty-three years, Dr. Longacre is survived by his four children, twelve grandchildren and seventeen great-grandchildren.

1943 – BA, Religious Education, Houghton College
1946 – BD, Faith Theological Seminary
1952 – MA, Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania
1955 – PhD, Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania

Major Publications:
1952. Five phonemic pitch levels in Trique. Acta Linguistica 7 (1-2): 62-82.
1957. Proto-Mixtecan. International Journal of American Linguistics 23(4), Part 3:1-195.
1960 (with Mak, Cornelia). Proto-Mixtec phonology. International Journal of American Linguistics 26.1: 23-40.
1964. Progress in Otomanguean reconstruction. Janua Linguarum, Proceedings of the Ninth International Congress of Linguists, Horace G. Lunt (ed.), pp. 1016–1025.
1964. Grammar discovery procedures: a field manual. Janua Linguarum, series minor, Academic Training.
1965 (with Upson, B. W.). Proto-Chatino phonology. International Journal of American Linguistics 31.4: 312-22.
1968. Discourse, paragraph and sentence structure in selected Philippine languages. Dallas: SIL International.
1970. Paragraph and sentence structure in New Guinea Highlands languages. Kivung (now Language and Linguistics in Melanesia), pp. 150–163.
1975. The tone system of Proto-Mixtecan. Bibliotheca Phonetica, Studies in tone and intonation by members of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, Ruth M. Brend (ed.) pages 152-154.
1976. (with Frances M. Woods, editor), Discourse grammar: Studies in indigenous languages of Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador 1 , Dallas: SIL International.
1976. 'Mystery' particles and affixes. Papers from the Twelfth Regional Meeting Chicago Linguistic Society. Salikoko S. Mufwene, Carol A. Walker and Sanford B. Steever (eds.) pages 468-77.
1976. An anatomy of speech notions. Peter de Ridder Publications in Tagmemics.
1977 (with Frances M. Woods, editor). Discourse grammar: Studies in Indigenous Languages of Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador 2. Dallas: SIL International.
1979. Why we need a vertical revolution in linguistics. The Fifth LACUS Forum 1978, Wolfgang Wölck and Paul Garvin (eds.), pp. 247–70.
1979. The discourse structure of the flood narrative. Journal of the American Academy of Religion XLVII (1), pp. 89–133.
1983. Spectrum, profile and constituency structure in text analysis. In Shiró̱ Hattori and Kazuko Inoue (eds.), Proceedings of the 13th International Congress of Linguists, Tokyo. pp. 1024–27.
1990. Storyline concerns and word order typology in East and West Africa. Studies in African Linguistics. Monograph Supplement 10, 181 pages.
1996 The Grammar of Discourse, 2nd edition, Springer.
2003. Joseph: A Story of Divine Providence: A Text Theoretical and Textlinguistic Analysis of Genesis 37 and 39-48, 2nd ed. Eisenbrauns.
2012 (with Shin Ja J. Hwang). Holistic Discourse Analysis , Second Edition, Dallas: SIL International.
2014 (to appear, with Andrew Bowling). Understanding Biblical Hebrew Verb Forms: Distribution and Function across Genres. Dallas: SIL International.

Linguistic Field(s): Not Applicable

Page Updated: 12-May-2014