Departmental announcement and tribute

Reproduced from the departmental website
December 5, 2014
Emmon Bach of Oxford, England, formerly of Amherst, died suddenly at home on November 28 after collapsing from undiagnosed pneumonia. He was born on June 12, 1929, in Kumamoto, Japan, the youngest of six children of Danish missionary parents Ditlev Gotthard Monrad Bach and Ellen Sigrid Bach who emigrated with their family to the U.S. in 1941, where he grew up in Fresno and Boulder. He did his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Chicago, with a Ph.D. in Germanic Studies in 1959. He taught at the University of Texas from 1959 to 1972, then at Queens College and the Graduate Center of CUNY in 1972-73. From 1973 until his retirement in 1992 he was Professor of Linguistics, and then Sapir Professor of Linguistics, at UMass Amherst, where he served as Department Head from 1977 until 1985. He was elected President of the Linguistic Society of America in 1996. He was predeceased by his daughter Meta Bach in 1984, and by his first wife Jean Bach; he is survived by his wife Wynn Chao of London, his son Eric Bach and grandson Stevie Bach of Madison, his stepsons Morriss, David, and Joel Partee, his stepchildren Christopher and Gabriella Lewis, step grandchildren Sean Partee, Sara Davis, and Rachael Davis Partee, his second wife Reed Young of Houston, and his third wife Barbara Partee of Amherst. Emmon published articles and books on syntax, phonology, languages of British Columbia, especially Haisla, on problems of tense and aspect in semantics, and on formal problems and semantic issues in the morphology of polysynthetic languages. For several years in the 1980s and 1990s, he taught linguistics and cotaught Haisla and Coast Tsimshian in British Columbia. After his retirement from UMass, he held an appointment as a Professorial Research Associate at SOAS (University of London), where he taught semantics and field methods. Beyond his scientific interests, he was also concerned with language rights and problems of language endangerment. He also wrote poetry and played the banjo and various other instruments.

Our department’s founder, Don Freeman, had tried to recruit Emmon here in 1971, but Emmon was not yet ready to leave Texas. Later, after Barbara arrived in 1972 and Barbara and Emmon got together, Emmon was happy to come to UMass. At first there wasn’t a full position available and for two years starting in 1973 Emmon taught half-time at Hampshire College and half-time at UMass (amounting to about 150% time in terms of work). But starting in 1975 he was full-time at UMass, and when Jay Keyser left for MIT in 1977, Emmon became Head, and was Head until 1985. Emmon played a major role in strengthening the department. Besides recruiting a number of new faculty and persuading the Dean to raise departmental salaries substantially during one of the rare budgetary good years, he obtained a commitment from the Dean for first-year fellowships for our PhD students so that they would not have to teach, making possible a major strengthening of the first-year curriculum. Emmon was a key part of the strength in semantics that helped to put UMass on the map within just a few years of the department’s 1970 creation. Don Freeman had managed to get the 1974 Linguistic Institute for UMass, and had Emmon signed up as Co-Director before Emmon had even come to UMass. Emmon and Barbara put together a strong semantics and philosophy of language component in that Institute, with leading scholars here to teach and participate in research workshops (one led by Emmon, one by Barbara, both with funding from the Mathematical Social Science Board.)

After Angelika joined the program in 1985, Emmon, Barbara, and Angelika often taught seminars together and worked together with students (including Molly Diesing, Roger Schwarzschild, Kai von Fintel, Paul Portner, Hotze Rullmann, Ginny Brennan, Noriko Kawasaki, Stephen Berman, Alison Taub, and Yutaka Ohno) on the big NSF cross-linguistic quantification project that included events at the LSA and at the 1989 Linguistic Institute in Arizona, and led to their jointly edited book (with Eloise Jelinek) Quantification in Natural Languages, one of the first major efforts in semantic typology.

Emmon Bach supervised PhD dissertations in semantics, syntax, and phonology, including those by Ellen Broselow, George Horn, Deborah Nanni, Mark Stein, Jean Lowenstamm, Deirdre Wheeler, Charles Jones, Wynn Chao, Carolyn Quintero, Joyce McDonough, Gert Webelhuth, and Jim Blevins. Students whose dissertation committees involved Emmon included Robin Cooper, Muffy Siegel, Nicki Keach, Michael Flynn, Michael Rochemont, Paul Hirschbuhler, Elisabet Engdahl, Irene Heim, Gennaro Chierchia, Peter Sells, Alison Huettner, Yoshi Kitagawa, Craige Roberts, Scott Myers, Jae-Woong Choe, Sandro Zucchi, Virginia Brennan, Noriko Kawasaki, and Paul Portner.Emmon had also been interested in linguistic fieldwork from several years before he came to UMass. His first periods in Kitimat, BC, working on the Haisla language were around 1970 – 71. He resumed that interest in the late 1970’s and spent quite a few summers and some sabbatical (and retirement) years in Kitimat, including all of 1989-90 and 1994-95, with continuing trips there until quite recently. His work on Haisla led him into a great interest in the nature of the word in agglutinative languages; in the open Workshop on Cross-Linguistic Semantics at the 1989 Linguistic Institute he first launched discussion of the question of whether one even found variable-binding inside the word in languages where ‘a word can be a sentence’. In the last few decades many of his papers have been about the syntax and the semantics of word grammar, often drawing on Haisla. His earlier research included classic papers on the semantics of tense and aspect, often combined with excursions into what he felicitously christened ‘natural language metaphysics’. As he put it, philosophers who work on metaphysics try to figure out what there is; linguists try to figure out what speakers of natural languages talk as if there is — what presuppositions about metaphysics and ontology are built into the semantics of a language. And he saw model-theoretic semantics as offering new ways to probe such presuppositions. Among his most cited contributions are two in this area: ‘On time, tense, and aspect: an essay in English metaphysics’ (1981) and ‘The algebra of events’ (1986). Earlier still he had done influential work somewhat in the vein of generative semantics, particularly with his early and influential paper ‘Nouns and noun phrases’ (1968). His interesting work in the 1970’s on the status of ‘transitive verb phrases’ (TVPs), phrasal units that combine with a direct object to make a verb phrase, led to insights into the nature of passive (‘In defense of passive’ (1980)) and control (‘Control in Montague grammar’ (1979), ‘Purpose clauses and control’ (1982)), and fed into his interest in ‘extended categorial grammar’: when a TVP combines with a direct object, the direct object goes next to the verb — the TVP combines with the NP by an operation he called ‘right-wrap’. A number of those ideas, including ‘right-wrap’, were later incorporated into HPSG. His funeral will take place at 11.15 on Saturday, 13 December at:
St John’s Chapel
Oxford Crematorium
Bayswater Rd, Headington
Oxford OX3 9RZ