Understanding Language Mourns the Loss of Charles J. Fillmore

Sunday, February 23, 2014

In appreciation of Charles Fillmore:

On behalf of Understanding Language, we mourn the passing of Charles Fillmore, emeritus Professor of Linguistics at UC Berkeley.  For us, Chuck was the co-author, with his wife Lily, of a paper “What does text complexity mean for English learners and language minority students?” which has been enormously influential in our work exploring the relationships between the meaning and forms of language. 

Beyond our small world, Chuck was a giant among giants in the scholarly field of linguistics.   In my graduate school days at Harvard, an era much influenced by Noam Chomsky, Charles Fillmore was the author of a treatise about case grammar, a foundational monograph that counterbalanced the field’s preoccupation with Chomsky’s transformational grammar as the dominant model of human language.  He then went on to develop frame semantics, which broke new ground and placed linguistics in the emerging field of cognitive science, also paving the way for the seminal work of his colleague George Lakoff around metaphors and framing.  And there were many, many more important papers, one after another.  He had an exceptionally fertile mind and an explosive imagination.

But above all, what we appreciated in Chuck was his remarkable humility despite his towering intellect.  When received the lifetime achievement award from the Association for Computational Linguistics last year, he recorded something like a personal biography, taped by Lily as he was unable to travel to Hawaii to receive the award.  His self-description of his life and career is vintage Chuck, and we post the link as a tribute to hear it from the man himself.  Click here.

Kenji Hakuta