LINGUIST List 30.4342

Fri Nov 15 2019

All: Remembering Jeanette Gundel (1942-2019)

Editor for this issue: Everett Green <>

Date: 12-Nov-2019
From: Liz Olson <>
Subject: Remembering Jeanette Gundel (1942-2019)
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The Institute of Linguistics at the University of Minnesota mourns the passing of our colleague, mentor, and friend, Professor Jeanette Gundel, who passed away at home on November 8, 2019. Jeanette was a pillar of Linguistics and Cognitive Science at the University of Minnesota for nearly four decades, whose vision and voice left an indelible mark on our programs and the members of our community. Her groundbreaking research on pragmatics set the course for scholars of reference and information structure. She was a friend and mentor to countless students and colleagues at the University and around the world.

Jeanette was born on July 16, 1942 in Krakow, Poland to Leo and Natalie Kohn. They immigrated to the United States in 1949, and she grew up in Allentown, PA. She received her BA degree in Russian in 1963 and her MA degree in Slavic Linguistics in 1966, both from the Pennsylvania State University. She went on to the PhD program in Linguistics at the University of Texas, Austin, and in 1974 completed her dissertation, “The Role of Topic and Comment in Linguistic Theory”, which was published in 1977 by the Indiana University Linguistics Club, and subsequently in 1988, in the Outstanding Dissertation in Linguistics Series by Garland.

Jeanette joined the Department of Linguistics at the University of Minnesota in 1980, having taught at the Ohio State University (1974-77) and the University of Hawaii at Manoa (1978-80). As a Linguistics faculty member, Jeanette was devoted to the development of the program. She was Head of the academic program in Linguistics from 1999 to 2016, and served as the Director of the Institute of Linguistics from 2010-2016. She served as the Director of Graduate Studies in Linguistics from 1991-1997 and from 2001-2012. She was a fierce advocate for the Linguistics program and for colleagues and students.

Under Jeanette’s leadership, the Linguistics program at the University of Minnesota emphasized the place that the study of the human mental capacity for language occupies among the cognitive sciences. This cognitive perspective was also reflected in Jeanette’s commitment to interdisciplinary connections. She was Associate Director of the Center for Cognitive Sciences from 2007-2019 and Director of Graduate Studies of the Cognitive Science graduate program from 2008-2019. She was also an affiliate member of the Department of Philosophy. She was instrumental in establishing the Ph.D program in Cognitive Science and received numerous grants to support the interdisciplinary research of students and colleagues in the program.

Jeanette’s research focused primarily on the interface between linguistic theory and pragmatics, and she was a leading scholar in works on reference and information structure. Her work was published widely in refereed journals, as book chapters, and as encyclopedia entries. Her foundational 1993 Language paper with Nancy Hedberg and Ron Zacharski, ''Cognitive Status and the Form of Referring Expression in Discourse,'' established the Givenness Hierarchy, a concept that has become crucial not only in linguistics, but also in the domains of psychology and computer science. This paper was included in The Language Anthology, Volume III, The Best of Language 1986-2016, a compilation of the most influential articles published in the history of the journal. In addition to her publications as author, Jeanette co-edited four major book volumes on reference, including The Oxford Handbook on Reference, published by Oxford University Press in 2019.

Jeanette’s standing as a leading scholar in the field was recognized far outside the bounds of the University of Minnesota. From 1997-1999, while on leave from UMN, she served as Professor of English Linguistics at Norwegian Institute of Science and Technology, Trondheim, and maintained strong collaborative connections with the Institute and throughout Europe after returning to Minnesota. Her expertise was valued by a number of scholarly organizations: she was elected to serve on the Nominating Committee for Linguistics and Language Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 2006 to 2009. She served on the Nominating Committee of the Linguistic Society of America (2002-2004) and was selected to teach at the Linguistic Society of America Summer Institutes in 2003 and 2007. Her work was funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) research grant for a cross-linguistic study of reference and cognitive status (2005-2008); she also served as an ad hoc reviewer for NSF grant proposals. In 2007, her impact on the field was honored by a festschrift, The Grammar-Pragmatics Interface: Essays in Honor of Jeanette K. Gundel, edited by Nancy Hedberg and Ron Zacharski and published by John Benjamins.

Jeanette had a deep commitment to linguistics and related disciplines, and devoted her life to the training of the next generation of linguists and cognitive scientists. She was a true mentor to her students and colleagues, always available to support and advocate for them. Jeanette supervised dozens of PhD and MA students, and served on committees and as an informal advisor to many more. Her students have gone on to be influential in a variety of domains: some becoming university professors in Linguistics, Cognitive Science, or Computer Science; a few assuming leadership positions as Deans or Directors in their colleges or universities; and a number taking on positions in language-related industry as research scientists or computational linguists. She regularly collaborated with students and colleagues, publishing works on a range of topics.

Jeanette was a dedicated ballroom dancer and an excellent cook. She is survived by sister Karen Kohn, son David Gundel, and granddaughters Tyler and Hannah Gundel.

Jeanette will be sorely missed by her colleagues, students, friends and family.

A Celebration of Life will be held on Sunday, November 17 (2-4pm) at the Cremation Society of Minnesota (Minneapolis location: 4343 Nicollet Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55409).

Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics

Page Updated: 15-Nov-2019