Obituary: Professor David Burnley
Blake, Norman, The Independent (London, England)
IN 1973 David Burnley arrived at Sheffield University as a Lecturer in the Department of English Language and Medieval Literature. He went on to play a crucial role in the department's overall aim of retaining a disciplined philological approach to the history of the English language, while simultaneously expanding the study of modern varieties of the language using modern linguistic method.
It was within the framework of this approach that Burnley taught a broad spectrum of courses, including Old English poetry, Middle English alliterative verse, the history of the language, Old French literature, Modern English grammar, lexis and semantics, and phonetics and syntax. He was generous with his knowledge and time, and he touched the lives of many of his students with the careful and conscientious supervision that he offered, reflecting a genuine care and interest in their work and progress.
Promotion came with a Senior Lectureship in 1983, a Readership in 1990 and a personal chair in 1993. Burnley was also involved in the administrative side of Sheffield University, serving as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, 1995-97, as well as Head of the Department of English Language and Linguistics 1996-2000. He was instrumental in setting up the new School of English in 1998, of which he became the first chairman.
His area of special expertise, however, became the language and literature of Geoffrey Chaucer. Two of his early books - Chaucer's Language and the Philosophers' Tradition (1979) and A Guide to Chaucer's Language (1983, reissued in 1989 as The Language of Chaucer) - demonstrate how he encouraged a deeper understanding of Chaucer's language and culture. In spite of the historical perspective of many of his research interests, Burnley's approach and methodology could never be described as being anchored in the past. He was quick to recognise opportunities that computer technology might present for teaching and research into modern varieties of the language.
Within the department, he organised a dedicated computer room for students, and his own research became increasingly influenced by computers. He produced The Sheffield Chaucer Textbase, a corpus of machine-readable Middle English Texts which is accessible to researchers all over the world. Burnley's self-acquired skills in programming also led to him creating a CD-Rom, entitled Old English: a multimedia history (2000), which is published by the British Library. It covers the language and culture of England from the coming of the English until the Norman Conquest, incorporating interactive images of manuscripts, architecture and jewellery. His most recent research project was to produce a computer version of the Auchinleck manuscript, a collection of Middle English romances and other texts, to be published by the National Library of Scotland.
During his career David published numerous books and articles. The History of the English Language: a sourcebook (1992), now in its second edition, remains a standard text for universities throughout the world. He was Associate Editor of The Year's Work in English Studies and worked together with Matsuji Tajima on an annotated bibliography, The Language of Middle English Literature (1994). His last book, Courtliness and Literature in Medieval England, was published in 1998.
Burnley was frequently invited to speak at …
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Publication information: Article title: Obituary: Professor David Burnley. Contributors: Blake, Norman - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: September 1, 2001. Page number: 6. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.