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In memoriam John McH Sinclair

Almost at the same time as we announced availability of BNC-XML, we received the following posting from Ute Römer:

13 March 2007 was a very sad day for the world of linguistics. John Sinclair (b. 14 June 1933) died at his home in Florence, aged 73. He will be deeply missed by his family, his colleagues and his many friends. His death is a terrible loss to everyone who knew him, and leaves a gap in the world of corpus linguistics which cannot be filled.

John was an outstanding scholar, a first-generation modern corpus linguist and one of the most open-minded and original thinkers in the field. He was Professor of Modern English Language at the University of Birmingham for most of his career and founder of the ground-breaking COBUILD project in lexical computing which revolutionised lexicography in the 1980s and resulted in a new generation of corpus-driven dictionaries and reference materials for English language learners. After his retirement from Birmingham John moved to Italy where he became President of the Tuscan Word Centre, an association devoted to promoting the scientific study of language. On the short intensive courses that the Tuscan Word Centre offered, John very generously shared his original ideas about language and linguistics with generations of younger scholars, introduced numerous students to the fascinating world of corpora and inspired many new ideas for future research in linguistics. He was an Honorary Life Member of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain and a member of the Academia Europaea. John held an Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Gothenburg, and Honorary Professorships in the Universities of Jiao Tong, Shanghai and Glasgow.


Although the British National Corpus may not have been exactly the kind of corpus John wanted it to be, it is safe to say that the BNC would never have existed without John's work. Almost everyone who ever worked on the project has to a greater or lesser extent been influenced by his thinking and, in many cases, worked directly with him. It is a cruel irony that his death should have occurred on the same day as we finalised a new edition of the corpus which includes for the first time a change in its internal tagging made on his recommendation. We dedicate that new edition to his memory.

Lou Burnard and Ylva Berglund

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