[Corpora-List] A poem to Professor John Sinclair

Xiaotian Guo garlickfred at gmail.com
Mon Mar 26 09:56:01 CEST 2007

Dear All

John has suddenly left us without any signs of leaving. I remember he
was still very active in Corpus Linguistics 2005 in Birmingham and in the
Third IVACS in Nottingham in 2006 giving talks and answering questions. As
an ex-PhD of Birmingham University, I was never bothered about taking photos
with John because I thought I would have plenty of chances later.
(Fortunately, I asked someone to help me to shoot a photo of John and me in
CL 2005 when I was a conference helper.) But when bad news came that he
would never be with us, I was first astonished, then stunned and eventually
speechless. I have never ever thought that John would one day leave this
world since he was so talented and he had so many ideas to share with his
friends and colleagues and so much insight to inspire his followers. Indeed,
as Antoinette stated in her email, most of us are in one way or another
indebted to his theories and practice.

Apart from quite a few conference key-note speeches and talks, there were
two occasions when I was fortunate enough to attend John's lectures, one was
in the second half of 1997 (or the first half of 1998) when I was a visiting
scholar to the Department of English. In that lecture he showed how simple
words like 'way' could be investigated thoroughly in the Bank of English
according to its syntactic patterns and its context. It was about ten years
from now, but it was like only a few weeks ago. The other occasion was in
2005 when he was in Birmingham University, giving a seminarian talk to a
group of postgraduates and visitors of the Department of English. He
addressed in details some hot issues in corpus linguistics including
collocation, colligation, semantic preferences (prosodies), corpus-based and
corpus-driven methodologies. He also answered some questions with pleasure
and patience. This seminarian talk was recorded and later transcribed by
Tony Bastow, Alyson Steele G. Weickert and me and then passed to John. He
told me that he would re-write the whole thing, based on the transcription
and have it published later. At the end of the very seminar, I asked John
how he regarded the classical traditional part-of-speech classification. And
what follows is part of his answer.

"I did write a paper on this, it was published in a festschrift to Stig
Johansson and it talks about common words. And I put forward the notion
there, which I still agree with, that part-of-speech as a concept applies to
the lexically rich words of the language, but not to the closed class items,
as so called."

It's a shame that it is no longer possible to learn from him as we used to
be able to. But his publications will become the most valuable heritage for
corpus linguists. He will be missed and respected as he has always been.

It's only a few days left when his funeral will be held in Italy. I cannot
afford to fly there in person to pay my last respect to him but I have
written a poem (in my native language Chinese) to say farewell to and in
memory of him, as if he was able to hear and as if he could understand
Chinese, to express my deepest sorrow and disbelief. The content of the poem
is basically what I said in the previous paragraphs. Pardon me for not being
able to provide an English version because I always believe that poems are
not translatable. (The rhymes and the beauty of the original language get
lost in translation, as we all know.)

[Poem is here:


Listadm Corpora]

With all my best wishes to John and his family.

Xiaotian Guo

Ex-PhD of the Department of English

The University of Birmingham

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