Magazine article European English Messenger

In Memory of Geoffrey Leech (1936-2014)

Magazine article European English Messenger

In Memory of Geoffrey Leech (1936-2014)

Article excerpt

Professor Geoffrey Leech, one of the finest British linguists of the last hundred years, died suddenly, aged 78, on 19 August 2014. At the time of his death, he was still tirelessly researching, publishing, debating, supporting colleagues and supervising students. I am proud and grateful to have been his close colleague for more than 40 years, benefiting continually from his insight, wisdom and kindness.

Geoff, as everyone knew him, was a Fellow of the British Academy, the Academia Europea, Lancaster University and University College London. He was the founding Chair (1974) of Lancaster University's Department of Linguistics and English Language. He had the confidence, passion and energy to pursue huge long-term projects until the rest of his subject came to understand their value. He wrote more than 30 books and well over 100 articles, led the Lancaster University team which built the British National Corpus, a major research tool used by linguists worldwide, and acted as series editor of linguistics monographs for Longman and Routledge. He played a leading, sometimes founding role in a number of significant areas of linguistics and English language: English grammar, the construction and automatic annotation of large electronic corpora for linguistic research, stylistics, semantics and pragmatics. He had the enviable skill of writing books which showed academic colleagues new insights and at the same time were applauded by students for their accessibility, elegance and clarity.

In 1985, Geoff and his co-authors (Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum and Jan Svartvik) won the English-Speaking Union's Duke of Edinburgh Language Competition for their book A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (Longman). In 2005, the book Geoff had invited me to write with him, Style in Fiction (Longman 1981) won the Poetics and Linguistics Association's Silver Jubilee Prize, for being 'the most influential book in stylistics' since the founding of the Association. Not surprisingly, given the high quality of his research and writing, Geoff received honorary degrees from a number of excellent universities in Europe and China, notably Lund, Charles University, Prague, and Beijing Foreign Studies University. Such was his international standing that, on hearing of his death, the International Society for the Linguistics of English (ISLE) dedicated its 24-27 August 2014 conference to Geoff's memory.

In addition to his work in linguistics, Geoff was a dedicated family man, a talented musician, a committed Christian and a lover of the north Lancashire countryside, where he enjoyed walking with Fanny, his wife, and his family and friends. He was choirmaster and played the organ at Leck parish church, where he is now buried outside the door of the church, in recognition of his commitment to, and work for, the church, a devotion which Fanny shared enthusiastically and continues.

Geoff was born in Gloucester in 1936 and was an undergraduate and postgraduate student of English at University College London (UCL), attending lectures by J. R. Firth, Daniel Jones and Winifred Nowottny, notably. His early love, developed first at UCL, for English literature and English language (and indeed their integration) became a hallmark of his career. As a young lecturer, he worked alongside Randolph Quirk, who had just accepted a professorship at UCL. Professor (now Lord) Quirk was a huge influence on Geoff's academic work and they collaborated in their research and publication on English grammar for many years. Geoff and Fanny met around the time of Geoff's BA graduation and he proposed to her within a week, saying, when she accepted his proposal, that he was glad he didn't now have to go to any more dances!

Geoff's first book-length publication was English in Advertising (Longman 1966) which was based on his MA dissertation. This was the first substantial book on the language of advertising and marks the first of Geoff's forays into new areas of linguistic study. …

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