Professor Richard Hogg

The Independent (London, England), December 1, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Professor Richard Hogg


Historian of the English language

Richard Hogg, a world-renowned specialist in the linguistic history of English, died suddenly midway through the sabbatical year which should have allowed him to bring important projects on dialectology and on Old English to completion. His best-known achievement is the six-volume Cambridge History of the English Language (CHEL, 1992-2001), of which he was General Editor.

Hogg's roots were in Edinburgh, where he was born, in 1944, grew up and studied. After nearly 40 years away, he was still wholly a Scot in speech and sympathies. His postgraduate career in Edinburgh had begun with two contrasting academic preoccupations: the Chomskyan analysis of present-day English syntax on the one hand (his PhD topic), and Middle English dialects on the other (his research post). In their very different ways, both represented state- of-the-art linguistics of the time.

At 26 he took up a lectureship in Amsterdam, and four years later he moved to Lancaster University. In 1980 he arrived at Manchester University as the surprisingly young Smith Professor of English Language and Medieval Literature. Not that I recall him ever teaching literature: it was rarely possible to get him to do anything that he didn't want to.

His early publications are mostly on the syntax of words like "both" and "none", including the book (English Quantifier Systems, 1977) derived from his PhD. Increasingly he started to focus on the sounds and forms of historical English, especially Old English, the period up to about 1100, on which he became an authority. He tackled linguistic change generally, and an interest in analogy led to one paper called simply "Snuck" - an explanation for that common variant of "sneaked". He also worked in phonological theory, publishing the influential textbook Metrical Phonology (1987) with his colleague and former student, Chris McCully.

The historical strand led to the multi-author Cambridge History of the English Language (CHEL), a big project which took many years of planning and good management to bring to successful completion. It has become a standard work in the field. Hogg himself edited the first volume on the earliest period of English and wrote the chapter on phonology and morphology. Last year, we jointly edited a new one- volume History of the English Language, and Hogg was still working on his own Grammar of Old English (volume 1 published in 1992, volume 2 nearly complete at his death).

He ranged widely. Interests included English dialectology - both the facts of variation in historical and present-day English and the ways in which scholars have approached these facts.

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