Friday, August 24, 2012

Rajendra Singh has passed away

Dear friends and colleagues,

One of the major practitioners of the linguistics discipline,
Rajendra Singh, passed away today in his home in Pierrefonds,
a suburb of Montreal. He was sixty-nine. Otto Ikome called
to give me the sad news. Raj had been suffering from cancer.

With Otto's help, I was able to have a telephonic conversation
with Raj about a month ago; he sounded upbeat, and I had been
hoping he would indeed have something close to a full recovery.
But our hopes were dashed.

The basic facts of Rajendra Singh's career may need to be
rehearsed, as younger South Asian linguists have on the whole
not had an opportunity to meet him often or to read his work.
After his Ph.D. in Linguistics at Brown University, Raj joined
the Universite de Montreal in 1972, and stayed on. His 1987
article 'Well-formedness conditions and phonological theory'
(Wolfgang Dressler et al. [eds] Phonologica 1984, 273-285)
was a much-cited landmark paper that helped change the course of
phonology. When the paradigm shift took place, the architects
of Optimality Theory gave explicit credit to Raj. After
formulating his theory of Generative Phonotactics, Raj
focused his attention on morphology, and was able to place
his approach, Whole Word Morphology, firmly on the map. While
those responsible for one of the more influential theories of
morphology -- Distributed Morphology -- acknowledge the affinity
between their own work and Raj's and even their debt to him
(Alec Marantz, p.c. in 1997), his contribution to phonology
met with unreserved acceptance. Raj's morphological work will
receive a rigorous second hearing when the community comes
to grips with the morphology-syntax interface with more
seriousness than it has been able to muster at this stage.

Both Raj's phonology and his morphology owed a great deal to
crucial fellow workers who were lifelong friends of his --
David Stampe, Alan Ford, Stanley Starosta.  But the specific
implementation we find in the formalizations of Generative
Phonotactics and Whole Word Morphology carried the stamp of
Raj's own distinctive style of thought and expression.

Any of you who wish to share thoughts or reminiscences
may please write to me. Raj's friends and family
will want to hear from South Asian linguists as well --
we have always been one of his important reference groups;
friends from Delhi will remember the way he bonded with
R.N. Srivastava from the 1970s onwards; friends from Hyderabad
know that HCU and CIEFL (Raj never did visit "EFLU") were
close to his heart as well.

I am in shock, personally, and hope you will forgive me for
any omissions in this message.




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