LINGUIST List 32.3706

Fri Nov 26 2021

All: Anita Steube (1939-2021)

Editor for this issue: Sarah Robinson <>

Date: 25-Nov-2021
From: Gereon Mueller <>
Subject: Anita Steube (1939-2021)
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On November 23, Anita Steube died at the age of 82. Anita Steube had been a professor of general linguistics at Leipzig University from 1984 until 2004; she was a member of the Saxon Academy of Sciences since 1991. She was an excellent linguist; she was a committed and fair organizer of research, bringing together people and topics of diverse provenance; she was a motivating and gentle academic teacher; she played an important role in the re-organization of Leipzig University in the post-reunification period, where she solved difficult problems with skill and perseverance, always with a focus on the people behind the problems; and she was a vital figure in maintaining, reconceptualizing, and developing linguistics in eastern Germany.

Anita Steube studied English and Romance philology from 1957 until 1962 at Karl-Marx-Universitaet Leipzig. Her 1966 dissertation was a study of gradient grammaticality in modern German poetry; her habilitation thesis from 1978 dealt with the semantics of tense. Her major research areas were syntax, semantics and pragmatics, where she addressed topics like complementizers, questions, aspect, indirect speech, predication, adverbs, passive, reflexives, and relative clauses. However, she also worked on morphology and prosodic phonology. In addition, discourse studies meant a lot to her, both in teaching and research. Her research was often based on evidence from German, sometimes also on evidence from other languages (like Russian and French), but always with an eye on cross-linguistic variation.

All that said, the single area of linguistics that was closest to her heart was information structure. Here she came up with some important research results, concerning, e.g., hat contours (I-topicalization), contrast, prosody, focus, focus particles, and negation; and here she contributed substantially to the enormous importance that this topic has in current linguistics. She became the editor of a book series on information structure (``Language, Context and Cognition''); and this area of research was a central object of study in the cooperative research projects that she was a director or core member of: the DFG Research Unit ``Linguistic Foundations of Cognition'' (1999-2007), and the DFG Research Training Group ``Universality and Diversity'' (1997-2006).

Interconnectedness and interdisciplinarity of research always were of utmost concern for Anita Steube. In line with this, she ensured that the cooperative research projects centered around her included not only linguists with diverse backgrounds, but also colleagues from computer science and psychology, on an equal footing. Similarly, she ensured that scholars were included in these projects who worked in one of the departments of the two Leipzig Max-Planck Institutes carrying out research on language (in fact, she had already played an important role in establishing the Department of Linguistics at the MPI-EVA in the first place).

After her retirement in 2004, she continued to be a member of the Linguistics Department at Leipzig University as an emeritus professor, and to contribute to its research and teaching. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the department that she had been material in re-establishing in 1998, there was a commemorative event in December 2018, with presentations by some of her former students who have by now become highly successful linguists themselves; and to celebrate her 80th birthday, there was a workshop in June 2019 dedicated to showing the relevance of her research, spanning six decades, for current linguistics. Both times, she closely followed, and commented on, the talks, wide awake and with a razor-sharp mind (as well as her characteristic dry humour).

We are very sad that she is no longer with us, and we will miss her greatly.

We will collect brief personal statements and publish them on our website; please send any such material (in German or English) to Barbara Stiebels:

Linguistic Field(s): Discipline of Linguistics

Page Updated: 26-Nov-2021