LINGUIST List 9.1237

Tue Sep 8 1998

All: In Memoriam: Charles Ferguson

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <>


  1. Kimary Shahin, Charles Ferguson and Arabic

Message 1: Charles Ferguson and Arabic

Date: Mon, 07 Sep 1998 20:05:40 PDT
From: Kimary Shahin <>
Subject: Charles Ferguson and Arabic

Dear colleagues,

Charles Ferguson has passed away. I've seen nothing posted about this
on the LINGUIST List. Please contact Dil Parkinson at for the exact date of Dr. Ferguson's very
recent death. The following is a tribute that appeared on Arabic-L.


Kimary N. Shahin
Assistant Professor
Dept. of English and of
Languages and Translation
Birzeit University


Charles Ferguson and Arabic
 -- Kirk Belnap <, Sept 7, 1998

No American has had a more profound impact on Arabic linguistics than
Charles Ferguson. He is best known in the field for his article on
diglossia (Ferguson 1959,1991), but his contributions go far beyond
this. He has addressed issues as varied as the history of the modern
Arabic dialects, their synchronic phonology, politeness formulas, baby
talk, language attitudes, rhymes, proverbs, the problems of developing
teaching materials for diglossic languages like Arabic, as well as
many reviews and published bibliographies. In all his work, he set a
standard for accuracy of observation, for carefulness of analysis, and
for the variety of sources consulted.

Fergie's love affair with Arabic dates back to the early 1940's when
he began working on Moroccan Arabic as a graduate student. This
experience lead to a lifelong interest in Arabic: In 1947 he founded
the Foreign Service Arabic Field School in Beirut. From 1955-59 he
taught Arabic at Harvard's newly-founded Middle East Center. As the
director of the newly founded Center for Applied Linguistics, he
directed special attention to less commonly taught languages such as
Arabic. During these years he played a pivotal role in the founding
of the American Association of Teachers of Arabic. He was outspoken
in challenging the academic status quo in Middle Eastern studies and
linguistics. His already well-established reputation helped to lend
legitimacy to the serious study of modern varieties of Arabic. In
later years, even when he was not professionally focused on Arabic,
the dynamics of Arabic speech communities figured prominently in his
teaching and scholarship. As he approached retirement, Fergie
actively returned to his Arabic beginnings. He figured prominently in
the founding of the Arabic Linguistics Society in 1986, was its first
keynote speaker in 1987, and was its president in 1991.

Fergie's life of pioneering work in Arabic will long inspire and
challenge those who follow. But for those who knew him personally, we
will remember him best for his kindness, for his insatiable
intellectual curiosity, and for his respect and love for peoples and
cultures across the globe. For us he is the example par excellence of
a gentleman and a scholar.
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