LINGUIST List 32.3972

Wed Dec 15 2021

All: Vivian Cook (1940-2021)

Editor for this issue: Everett Green <>

Date: 15-Dec-2021
From: Bene Bassetti <>
Subject: Vivian Cook (1940-2021)
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We have sadly lost a leading figure in applied linguistics: Vivian J. Cook, Emeritus Professor of Applied Linguistics at Newcastle University. Vivian will be known to most scholars in the field for his work on second language acquisition, particularly the concept of multi-competence. A prolific and influential author, Vivian was a theoriser and a popular writer. Anyone who met him will remember him as a brilliant mind and an extremely generous person.

His main contribution has been linguistic multi-competence. First proposed in 1991, this approach to second language acquisition developed over the years. Vivian defined it as ‘the overall system of a mind or a community that uses more than one language” in the 2016 Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Multi-competence. Multi-competence posits that the mind of an L2 user (or community) contains a system composed of all their languages. This affects the whole mind, including non-linguistic cognition, hence the multi-competent L2 user is qualitatively different from a monolingual. The approach has been very influential in L2 research and beyond.

After being Lecturer in English as a Foreign Language at Ealing Technical College and Director of the Language Service at North East London Polytechnic, Vivian became Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the University of Essex in 1978, and Professor at Newcastle University in 2004.

He started his prolific career as an author in 1968, and since published more than a hundred articles and chapters, and over twenty authored or (co-)edited volumes, many of which were translated and published in Europe and the Far East. His wide-ranging interests included not only second language learning and teaching, but also first language acquisition, linguistics, EFL, writing systems and bilingual cognition. He kept writing to the very last, and his latest book The Language of the English Street Sign will appear in January 2022.

Thanks to his open-mindedness, Vivian was always ahead of his time. In the absence of a Europe-wide professional association, in 1989 he founded EUROSLA (European Second Language Association), and was its first President and later Distinguished Scholar (2014). Noticing the absence of a dedicated publication, in 2009 he co-founded the journal Writing Systems Research. Over the years, he brought together researchers in edited volumes on novel topics, ranging from the effects of the L2 on the L1 to linguistic relativity in L2 users. Ignoring disciplinary and geographical boundaries, he collaborated with linguists, educationalists and psychologists, and always insisted on involving researchers from all over the world. He wanted to bridge L2 research and language teaching practice, and wrote and presented extensively on the roles of the L1 in the L2 classroom, of the non-native teacher, of written language, among other topics.

Vivian had a knack for making linguistics accessible, both to students and beyond academia. He introduced many students to Chomsky’s theories with the successful “Chomsky's Universal Grammar: An Introduction” of 1988. His multi-competence-inspired textbook Second Language Learning and Language Teaching is now in its fifth edition. He enjoyed writing popular books on linguistics, including vocabulary and spelling (Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary: Or, Why can’t Anybody Spell?), delighting his readers with his friendliness and British humour. He was a very popular speaker, who gave many talks worldwide.

He was an inspiring and caring teacher and supervisor. The doors of his home were always open to his postgraduate students, and former students of his can be found in universities around the world.

Vivian will be sorely missed. His dedication to applied linguistics will remain an inspiration for us, and we will forever miss his lively mind and his generosity.

Vivian’s website:
Memorial website (to go live soon):

Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics

Page Updated: 15-Dec-2021