Friday, January 01, 2010

Robert de Beaugrande

I picked up Robert de Beaugrande's Text production the other day, and thought I'd look a little more at the author. I've found his account of how writers deal with the problem of linearity (that is, the problem that language is linear, but what we want to talk about is not) really helpful in explaining the contribution of typography and layout. He doesn't make the connection himself, although he does apply his ideas to punctuation.

As readers we imagine what writers are like from their work. So visiting Robert's website (link removed 2022 as it's disappeared) I was surprised to find a highly individual, committed and even eccentric scholar - a pioneer of discourse linguistics but not an establishment academic. It's full of pictures of him on his travels around the world (and in company with distinguished linguists), and full of digs at Cambridge University Press, Microsoft, the Tories and other elitist groups he's taken against. Quite strange in many ways - but sincere and committed. He was obviously very deeply engaged in thinking about language, how it works in everyday life, how it should be studied.

He spent a lot of time in recent years scanning in his major publications, including the books, to make them freely available (and free) on his website.

I use the past tense because he died last year - I can't find a biography, just this short obituary, so I don't know how old he was. Not old enough, I suspect.