LINGUIST List 26.3156

Mon Jul 06 2015

All: Obituary: Josie Bernicot (1955-2015)

Editor for this issue: Malgorzata Cavar <>

Date: 04-Jul-2015
From: Edy Veneziano <>
Subject: Obituary: Josie Bernicot (1955-2015)
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In Memory of Professor Josie Bernicot (1955-2015): A great presence in developmental pragmatics

Josie Bernicot passed away on May 12, 2015, when she was 59 years old, after having lived for many years with a neuromuscular disease. Her premature death was a profound shock for her colleagues and for all those who loved and admired her work. She was a generous and passionate scientist and her enthusiasm for research was contagious. Her original way of thinking was a source of inspiration to many colleagues and students and her groundbreaking ideas greatly contributed to advance the field of pragmatics in language acquisition.

Josie Bernicot was born on July 4, 1955 (she liked to remind us that she was born on the US National Day) in Roumazières Loubert, a little village of the French region Poitou. After completing her doctoral studies in Psychology at the University of Poitiers, she took a position as Senior Lecturer at the University of Reims before becoming, in 1991, Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Poitiers, a position she held until the end of her life. Her research activities took place, first, within the LaPsyDée (Laboratory of Developmental Psychology and Psychology of Education) at the University Paris 5–René Descartes (now renamed Paris Descartes), where she directed the Research Group on the Pragmatics of Communication. In 2000, the group moved to Poitiers to become part of the CNRS Laboratory CeRCA (Research Center for Cognition and Learning).

As she writes on her website [], Josie Bernicot thought that the key explanation of the linguistic knowledge is not to be found in language itself but in the relation between the structure of language and the characteristics of communicative situations. In other words, language knowledge cannot be reduced to grammar. Mastering a language requires being able to adjust linguistic markings to the social context and the goals of the situation at hand. She notes that such a position, "which corresponds to the scientific field of Pragmatics," has implications for how language acquisition in children -- but also at later ages -- is conceived. She applied this perspective not only to typically developing children but also to atypical development in fundamental and applied research. More recently, she became interested in digital writing (as part of the international project SMS4science) and the results of her research had a great echo in the press. She showed that the practice of text messaging has no influence on the spelling of high school students. Another line of interest was in the evaluation of communicative and pragmatic skills for people with SLI. In June she was supposed to present a new test "Pragma test senior" for the evaluation of pragmatic skills in elderly people.

She was very much involved in bringing together researchers around specific goals and topics. She created a database bank for French-speakers called Pergame, in which French, Canadian, Belgian and Swiss researchers participated. She organized several 'CNRS Thematic Schools' and led research projects involving teams of researchers. These activities gave rise to several co-edited books such as "De l’usage des gestes et des mots chez l’enfant" (1998), "Pragmatique et psychologie" (2002), "L’acquisition du langage par l’enfant" (2009), "Interactions verbales et acquisition du langage" (2010). She guest-edited several special issues of journals such as Enfance (2003), La Linguistique (2006) and Le Langage et l’Homme (2006), and published papers in Encyclopædia Universalis (2015).

She gave an international breath to her research by inviting, and often collaborating with, known scholars from abroad (such as, Susan Ervin Tripp from Berkeley University, Judy Reilly from San Diego University and Eve Clark from Stanford University, or Judith Comeau from the University of Montreal). Josie went herself to San Diego for a sabbatical, where she consolidated her fruitful collaboration with Judy Reilly, and came back to France with ideas for teaching in an American style.

Josie was involved in professional and scientific associations, such as IPRA (International Pragmatics Association, from its beginning), IASCL (International Association for the Study of Child Language), and the GDR ADYLOC (Oral Language and Cognition: Acquisition and Dysfunctionings, CNRS 3195). She was on the editorial board of the International Journal of Psychology, Language, Interaction and Acquisition and the European Journal of Developmental Psychology.

She also had a marked sense for 'good living' and thought that scientific work is enhanced through close and enjoyable relations, even better if around good wine and food! Memorable is the symposium on developmental pragmatics she organized at the 1998 IPRA Conference in Reims where, together with Susan Ervin Tripp, the participants were accommodated in the grape-pickers rooms of a Champagne vineyard. Her house was always open to informal social gatherings with collaborators and students.

Lately, she was engaged in co-organizing, with Edy Veneziano, the International Conference Narrative and Interaction 2015 (that finally took place in Paris mid-June), as part of the activities of the research group ADYLOC (GDR 3195, coordinated by Maya Hickmann). Her thoughts remained focused on that project until the very last days of her life.

Her legacy will live on through all of us continuing the work that was so abruptly interrupted.

Alain Bert-Erboul, Virginie Dardier, Michèle Guidetti and Edy Veneziano

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Page Updated: 06-Jul-2015