27.3686, All: Obituary: In Memoriam René Dirven (1932-2016)

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Subject: 27.3686, All: Obituary: In Memoriam René Dirven (1932-2016)

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Date: Mon, 19 Sep 2016 11:51:04
From: Martin Pütz [puetz at uni-landau.de]
Subject: Obituary: In Memoriam René Dirven (1932-2016)

Obituary: In Memoriam René Dirven (1932-2016)

René Dirven, one of the founding fathers of cognitive linguistics, died on
August 18, 2016 at the age of 83 in his hometown Mechelen, Belgium. The
cognitive-linguistic community mourns the loss of one of its most important
figures. The last years of his life were overshadowed by blindness, but René
cooperated with colleagues and read publications by way of screen readers,
wrote articles and established an online discussion group. His work came to an
abrupt end after an accident at his home. When still in hospital, his wife
Lutgard De Wit died on August 3. After 58 years of married life, he wanted to
attend her funeral but suffered a stroke the day before the ceremony, leaving
the left part of his body paralyzed. After another severe stroke, he passed
away only fifteen days after his wife. His burial was on August 25, 2016. He
leaves behind two daughters and a son, his daughter Greet having predeceased
him in November of 2015, three sons-in-law and one daughter-in-law as well as
eight grandchildren. But he also leaves behind numerous students and
colleagues throughout the academic world who have learned much from him about
language and linguistics.

René Dirven figures prominently as one of the founding fathers and the
spiritual mentor of cognitive linguistics. However, his main concern with
cognitive linguistics is to be seen in the framework of a more general
interest in the role of language in society. Some of the wide-ranging fields
of study that René has been concerned with most during his academic career
include three major areas: (i) his concern with applied linguistics from the
perspective of foreign language teaching and learning; (ii) his concern with
macro-sociolinguistics as illustrated by way of the multilingual situation in
Africa; (iii) his commitment to the conceptual foundation of language as
explored by cognitive linguistics, its underlying theories and methodologies
and major strands.

In 1971, René received his doctoral degree from the University of Leuven in
Belgium. In his comprehensive thesis entitled Some Problems of Attribution and
Predication in English Syntax: A Transformational Approach, he took up the
controversy hotly debated at that time of whether the transformational model
was to be syntactically based, as proposed by Chomsky, Jackendoff and others,
or semantically based, as suggested by Lakoff, Ross, McCawley, etc. These
early ideas of his on a semantically, or conceptually, motivated syntax
already made it clear that he was on his way towards becoming a cognitive
linguist, a perspective which later on he vigorously propounded in many
publications, plenary lectures and talks in Europe and around the world.

In 1972, René was appointed Professor of English Linguistics at the University
of Trier, Germany’s oldest city adjacent to Luxembourg and France. Applying
linguistics to language teaching was his main goal, in other words adapting
linguistic insights to the needs of the teacher and the student, making the
structure of language transparent and meaningful, presenting authentic use of
language, and gearing the teaching material to the students’ needs and
motivation. Feedback from his students was an essential part of his academic
work. During the process of supervising and editing the three volumes of A
User’s Grammar of English (Dirven 1989), he constantly tried out new methods
and solutions to grammatical problems in his “Practical English” seminars.
Twenty years later he presented his view of applied and didactic linguistics
within the cognitive framework in two volumes entitled Applied Cognitive
Linguistics (Pütz, Niemeier and Dirven 2001a, 2001b). These were the first
extensive publications concentrating on the links between theoretical views of
cognitive linguistics and their application in the areas of language
acquisition, learning and pedagogy. 

In Trier, René always understood his linguistic work within the larger context
of linguistic research done world-wide. New ways of communication were
required in order to spread new linguistic ideas across the linguistic
community, especially in Europe. He founded, together with his colleague
Günter Radden, a linguistic clearing-house in 1973, the Linguistic Agency at
the University of Trier (LAUT). LAUT aimed at the quick dissemination of
linguistic research by pre-publishing important linguistic papers. By now,
LAUT and its successor in Duisburg, LAUD, have circulated more than two
thousand papers on issues of theoretical and applied linguistics, and there is
hardly any renowned linguist whose name has not appeared on the list of papers
published by LAUT/LAUD. It goes without saying that by now the acronym LAUD is
internationally known and strongly associated with the name of its founder and
main representative, René Dirven. The Linguistic Agency also provided an
institutionalized forum that allowed René to organize an impressive series of
international linguistic symposia. The world’s most distinguished scholars
were invited to present their work at the newly founded University of Trier,
which overnight became known as a destination of pilgrimage in modern
linguistics. The series of symposia was opened in 1977 with papers by Charles
Fillmore, followed by John Searle, William Labov, Michael Halliday, George
Lakoff, Ronald Langacker and many other well-known scholars of linguistics. 

In 1985, René Dirven was appointed Full Professor of English Linguistics at
the University of Duisburg in North-Rhine Westfalia, Germany. In the same year
he was invited by John Taylor to give several lectures in South Africa. This
visit was to become more than an academic lecture tour. It not only opened up
a vista to cognitive linguistics for John Taylor, but it also widened René’s
view of languages and linguistics. As a sociolinguist, he became interested in
the multilingual situation of South Africa. As a native speaker of Dutch, he
was fascinated by the unusually rich metaphorical world which Afrikaans has
preserved from Dutch or developed as a creole language. 

Borrowing from Lakoff and Johnson (1980), René Dirven initiated a research
project on “Metaphors Afrikaners live by,” which was soon published in book
form entitled Metaphor and Nation: Metaphors Afrikaners Live By (Dirven 1994).
René Dirven always understood his linguistic work on language policy in South
Africa as a contribution towards a democratic, non-racial post-apartheid
system. He always vigorously expressed his views on the conditions for a
stronger exploitation of the multilingual resources of Southern Africa.
Academics, linguists and non-linguists in Africa are constantly exposed to the
multilingual nature of their cultural communities. For René Dirven, who was
used to living in a trilingual country and whose wife and children were as
multilingual as he was, this situation was not unusual, but rather the norm. 

As a consequence, René Dirven initiated the foundation of LiCCA (Languages in
Contact and Conflict in Africa), an international macro-sociolinguistic
research project funded by the Flemish Government (1996-1999) and involving
various universities and research institutions in Africa, Europe and the
United States (Dirven 1990; Dirven and Webb 1992; Dirven and Blommaert 1997).
The major thrust of LiCCA was to contribute to the optimal use of the
multilingual potential in African countries. René was convinced that the
language problems, ideologies and educational issues of sub-Saharan Africa
should be tackled cooperatively by government representatives, language
communities and academics alike and he constantly urged researchers to take up
this challenge. His work on language contact and conflict situations in Africa
resulted in many publications, highlighting undemocratic multilingual language
policies especially in South Africa, which he visited several times. As a
token of their high esteem for René’s work for the African continent, African
scholars offered René a Festschrift entitled Living through Languages: An
African Tribute to René Dirven, edited by Christa van der Walt (2007).

While Africa presented a new geographical and social challenge to René Dirven,
the rise of cognitive studies presented a new linguistic challenge to him.
Very few people in Europe had been aware of the cognitive revolution
spearheaded by the Berkeley and San Diego schools of thought in the late 1970s
and 1980s, and it was once again René Dirven who opened the gateway for these
ideas to spread among European scholars. In an interview with Sabine De Knop
(2010), René pointed out that, with the publication of Lakoff and Johnson’s
classic Metaphors We Live By (1980), cognitive linguistics appeared on the
linguistics scene world-wide and finally set foot in Europe, i.e. “for the
post-generative world this booklet was the light rocket in a somewhat greyish
linguistic sky” (Dirven in De Knop 2010: 177). In the spring of 1989, at
Duisburg University in Germany, René organized the 22nd LAUD Symposium on
cognitive linguistics, which in retrospect was declared to be the “First
International Cognitive Linguistics Conference” (ICLC). This conference
attracted more than 120 linguists from 15 countries, still quite a modest
symposium compared to the present ICLC mega-events. As Langacker once put it,
this first conference “marked the birth of Cognitive Linguistics as a broadly
grounded, self-conscious intellectual movement” (Langacker 1991: ix). The
symposium indeed became a true landmark in cognitive linguistics: It was here
that the International Cognitive Linguistics Association (ICLA) was founded
and the series Cognitive Linguistics Research and the journal Cognitive
Linguistics under the imprint of Mouton de Gruyter were launched. 

On the occasion of the Duisburg conference in 1989, René Dirven also initiated
a “Cognitive Linguistics Bibliography Project”. This bibliography highlighted
the accelerating pace of linguistic developments and their potential impact on
the researchers’ thinking in the cognitive community. Almost 20 years later,
with the cooperation of several editors and a number of associates, René’s
long-term bibliographical concern finally culminated in two large electronic
enterprises, namely the compilations of the “Cognitive Linguistics
Bibliography”, published by Mouton de Gruyter (De Knop et al. 2008), and the
online “Bibliography of Metaphor & Metonymy”, published by John Benjamins (De
Knop et al. 2005). Both compilations were co-edited by René Dirven as their
main instigator and spiritual mentor. In 2010, the Cognitive Linguistics
Bibliography already numbered over 13,000 entries and also included 82
articles, books and edited volumes produced by René himself within a period of
20 years. René’s enormous output of cognitive linguistics studies not only
made him one of the founding fathers and organizers of the field, but also one
of the most hard-working and irrepressible cognitive linguists in the last
quarter century.

René has held many positions within the cognitive linguistics enterprise. From
1995 to 1997, he served as the third President of ICLA, increasing the
association’s reputation and prominence in cognitive linguistics research. He
was co-editor of two monograph series published by Mouton de Gruyter, launched
in 2006, “Cognitive Linguistics Research” and “Applications of Cognitive
Linguistics”. Together with Marjolijn Verspoor he edited the first textbook in
the series “Cognitive Linguistics in Practice” (CLiP), entitled Cognitive
Explorations of Language and Linguistics (1999, 2nd edition 2004). The book is
still being used as a textbook in many universities around the world and has
been translated into seven languages. The second book in the CLiP series is
Cognitive English Grammar (CEG), written over a time span of ten years in
cooperation with his colleague and friend of old, Günter Radden (Radden and
Dirven 2007). CEG was their third jointly produced English grammar, it
integrates insights from Langacker’s cognitive grammar, Lakoff’s conceptual
metaphor theory, Fauconnier’s mental space theory and Goldberg’s construction

René also constantly wrote state-of-the-art reports on the rise, development
and perspectives of cognitive linguistics, such as “Major Strands in Cognitive
Linguistics” (Dirven 2005), “Cognitive Linguistics” (Dirven 2008) or “Looking
back at 30 years of Cognitive Linguistics” (Dirven and Ruiz de Mendoza 2011).
His experience with the social, cultural and linguistic problems in Africa
triggered his interest and efforts towards a cognitive sociolinguistics. The
book on Cognitive Sociolinguistics (Kristiansen and Dirven 2008) is concerned
with the variational dimension of a usage-based approach. From a
macro-sociolinguistic point of view, René favored an ideologically-laden
Critical Cognitive Linguistics, that is, cognitive ideology research
associated with the study of power relations as an intrinsic part of cognitive
linguistics (Dirven and Pütz 2007). This trend was already dominant in the
cognitive approaches to ideology taken in the twin volumes Language and
Ideology edited by René Dirven and others (2001a, b). In the course of his
academic career, René has published close to 30 books and 190 articles. The
high esteem René enjoyed as an outstanding scholar among his numerous
colleagues and friends can be seen from books and Festschriften dedicated to
him (Pütz 1992, Smieja and Tasch 1997, van der Walt 2006, De Knop and De
Rycker 2008). It is surely a measure of René Dirven’s outstanding reputation
that his colleagues and students have felt the need to pay tribute by
publishing collections of articles in his honor.

René was an excellent teacher and an invaluable source of inspiration for his
students and young researchers. He not only taught his students well but also
included them in many scholarly activities, and he encouraged young scholars
to conduct research, write and publish and thus contributed to the academic
careers of many cognitive linguists in Europe and throughout the world. René
can certainly be assured of our deep respect and recognition for all the hard
work he did for us. Many friends and colleagues expressed their deep
consternation at the sudden loss of René but also gave voice to their
gratitude and privilege to have known and worked with this very special
person. René Dirven will be remembered for his scholarly work, his warmth and
his positive attitude: “Everything will be alright if you just don’t worry.”

Martin Pütz and Günter Radden


De Knop, Sabine, René Dirven and Birgit Smieja (eds.). 2005. Bibliography of
Metaphor and Metonymy (METBIB). The Interdisciplinary Resource of Figurative
Language. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
De Knop, Sabine, Beate Hampe, René Dirven and Birgit Smieja (eds.). 2008.
Cognitive Linguistics Bibliography. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
De Knop, Sabine and Teun De Rycker (eds.). 2008. Cognitive Approaches to
Pedagogical Grammar: A Volume in Honour of René Dirven. Berlin/New York:
Mouton de Gruyter. 
De Knop, Sabine. 2010. Diversity and unity in Cognitive Linguistics: An
interview with René Dirven. Review of Cognitive Linguistics 8:1, 177-205.
Dirven, René. 1971. Some Problems of Attribution and Predication in English
Syntax: A Transformational Approach. Dissertation Catholic University of
Dirven, René (ed.). 1989. A User’s Grammar of English: Compact Edition.
Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang.
Dirven, René. 1990. Contact and conflict linguistics in Southern Africa. In:
K. Chick (ed.). Searching for Relevance. Contextual issues in Applied
Linguistics in Southern Africa. Durban: SAALA, 16-51.
Dirven, René. 1994. Metaphor and Nation: Metaphors Afrikaners Live By.
Frankfurt/Main: Lang.
Dirven, René; Hawkins, Bruce and Esra Sandikcioglu (eds.). 2001a. Language and
Ideology. Volume I: Theoretical cognitive approaches. <Current Issues in
Linguistic Theory, Vol. 204>. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Dirven, René; Frank, Roslyn and Cornelia Ilie (eds.). 2001b. Language and
Ideology. Volume II. Descriptive cognitive approaches. <Current Issues in
Linguistic Theory, Vol. 205>. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Dirven, René. 2005. Major strands in Cognitive Linguistics. In F.J. Ruiz de
Mendoza Ibánez and M. S. Pena Cervel (eds). Cognitive Linguistics: Internal
dynamics and interdisciplinary interaction. Berlin/New York: Mouton de
Gruyter, 17-68.
Dirven, René. 2008. Cognitive Linguistics. In: K. Malmkjaer (ed.). The
Linguistics Encyclopedia. 2nd. Edition. Routledge: London and New York, 76-82.
Dirven, René and Martin Pütz. 2007. Language conflict seen from the
perspective of the rationalist and romantic models: new developments. Southern
African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 25(3): 303-317.
Dirven, René and Vic Webb (1992). LiCCA Research and Development Programme.
Duisburg: University of Duisburg.
Dirven, René and Jan Blommaert. 1997. The Africanisation of LiCCA. In: B.
Smieja (ed.). Proceedings of the LiCCA Workshop in Dar es Salaam, 26-28
September 1996. Duisburg: LICCAP Series, no.2.
Dirven, René and Francisco José Ruiz de Mendoza Ibánez. 2011. Looking back at
30 years of Cognitive Linguistics. In: E. Tabakowska, M. Choinski and W.
Lukasz (eds.). Cognitive Linguistics in Action: From Theory to Application and
Back. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 13-70.
Kristiansen, Gitte and René Dirven (eds.). 2008. Cognitive Sociolinguistics:
Language Variation, Cultural Models, Social Systems. <Cognitive Linguistics
Research, 37>. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago Ill: The
University of Chicago Press.
Langacker, Ronald. 1991. Concept, Image and Symbol: The Cognitive Basis of
Grammar. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Pütz, Martin (ed.). 1992. Thirty Years of Linguistic Evolution: Studies in
Honour of René Dirven on the Occasion of his Sixtieth Birthday.
Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Pütz, Martin, Susanne Niemeier and René Dirven (eds.). 2001a. Applied
Cognitive Linguistics I: Theory and Language Acquisition. Berlin/New York:
Mouton de Gruyter.
Pütz, Martin, Susanne Niemeier and René Dirven (eds.). 2001b. Applied
Cognitive Linguistics II: Language Pedagogy. Berlin/New York: Mouton de
Radden, Günter and René Dirven. 2007. Cognitive English Grammar. <Cognitive
Linguistics in Practice 2>. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Smieja, Birgit and Maike Tasch (eds). 1997. Human Contact through Language and
Linguistics. Frankfurt/M: Lang.
Van der Walt, Christa (ed.). 2006. Living through Languages: An African
Tribute to René Dirven. Stellenbosch: Sun Press.

Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
                     Cognitive Science


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