Obit from the NY Times
Obit from the NY Times
Charles Hockett, Linguist With an Anthropological View, Dies at 84
By MARGALIT FOX
Charles F. Hockett, one of the last great champions of structural linguistics, an approach to the study of language upstaged by the "Chomsky Revolution" of the 1950's, died Nov. 3 at the Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, N.Y. He was 84 and lived in Ithaca.
Before his retirement in 1982, Dr. Hockett was the Goldwin Smith Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics at Cornell University. His many books included "A Course in Modern Linguistics" (1955), which remained the standard introductory work for nearly two decades, and the anthropology text "Man's Place in Nature" (1973).
Dr. Hockett, whose goatee and deliberate manner of speaking contributed to his professorial mien, was one of the most prominent linguists of the post-World War II era, recognized for his meticulous analyses of languages from Chinese to Fijian to Potawatomi, a lifework he once described as "anthropology wrapped around linguistics." He was later known for his stinging criticism of Chomskyan linguistics, which he called "a theory spawned by a generation of vipers."
Until the late 1950's, structural linguistics held sway as the field's reigning methodology. Closely allied with behavioral psychology, it viewed language as a social phenomenon and the linguist's task as the compilation of minutely detailed grammatical inventories of individual languages.
But in 1957 the young linguist Noam Chomsky redirected the course of the field from behavior to biology, arguing that human language ability is the product of an innate, universal cognitive faculty. The task of the linguist, then, should be to characterize this inborn faculty by means of abstract, quasi-mathematical rules. Dr. Chomsky's work, originally known as transformational-generative grammar, continues to be the dominant force in linguistics.
Dr. Hockett, however, remained a lifelong adherent of structuralism, lamenting what he viewed as the Chomskyans' ripping of language from its social context. "In the form of an aphorism that paraphrases Stalin and Einstein," he wrote in 1979, "linguistics without anthropology is sterile; anthropology without linguistics is blind."
Charles Francis Hockett was born Jan. 17, 1916, in Columbus, Ohio, where his father, Homer Carey Hockett, taught American history at Ohio State University. Charles entered Ohio State in 1932 at the age of 16, receiving his B.A. and M.A. in ancient history jointly in 1936. He received his doctorate in 1939 from Yale, where he was a student of the renowned linguist and anthropologist Edward Sapir.
As a United States Army officer during World War II, Dr. Hockett prepared foreign-language instructional materials for military personnel ("In 1944 I could say `Where is the toilet?' in 28 languages," he recalled), and on returning to civilian life he worked briefly on the American College Dictionary ("Many of the nontechnical definitions in the B's are mine, and I am especially proud of the entry on `bubble' "). He joined the Cornell faculty in 1946.
Dr. Hockett is survived by his wife, the former Shirley Orlinoff, a retired professor of mathematics at Ithaca College; his daughters, Alpha Walker of Los Angeles, Amy Rose of Detroit, Rachel Youngman of Cambria, Calif., and Carey Hockett of London; a son, Asher, of Ithaca; and five grandchildren. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Science, and a past president of the Linguistic Society of America.
In 1968, Dr. Hockett published "The State of the Art," a book-length denunciation of the transformational grammarians. "Their studies are as worthless as horoscopes," he told The New Yorker in 1971. "They have rejected the scientific approach to the study of the human mind and human behavior, and retreated into mysticism."