Anna Siewierska

Jean-Christophe Verstraete jean-christophe.verstraete at ARTS.KULEUVEN.BE
Tue Aug 16 20:27:12 UTC 2011

Dear ALT members,

On behalf of ALT's executive committee, Martin Haspelmath has written a 
tribute to Anna Siewierska, which we would like to share with you here. 
We will keep you informed about other tributes and memorial events for 


Anna Siewierska (1955-2011)

Anna Siewierska, President of the Association for Linguistic Typology 
and one of the world’s leading typologists, died in a car accident on 6 
August 2011, at the age of 55. Originating from Gdynia, Poland, she 
spent many years in her early life in Australia as her father worked in 
foreign trade. In 1980-1981 she was in Gdansk and took active part in 
the historic events surrounding the rise of Solidarność, working as a 
link between the trade union’s leadership and English-speaking journalists.

Her linguistics career began as a student of Barry Blake’s at Monash 
University in Melbourne, where she excelled at an early stage of her 
studies. Her M.A. thesis on the passive in cross-linguistic perspective 
(written in 1979, published as Siewierska 1984) was widely read and 
seems to have been her most widely cited work. She later also coedited a 
festschrift for Barry Blake (Siewierska & Song 1998). Throughout her 
career, she remained interested in valency and voice matters, as is 
attested by her most recent edited book on impersonal constructions 
(Malchukov & Siewierska 2011), as well as her last two conference 
presentations at the ALT conference in Hong Kong, both dealing with 
three-participant constructions (Siewierska & van Lier 2011, van Lier, 
Siewierska & Witzlack-Makarevich 2011). A recent conference organized by 
her and her team in May 2011 in Lancaster discussed referential 
hierarchies in three-participant constructions.

When she came from Gdansk to Amsterdam in the late 1980s and joined the 
Functional Grammar circle, these matters were high on the agenda in that 
group, too. A few years later, she published a book on Functional 
Grammar (Siewierska 1991) that gave a “friendly outsider’s” overview of 
the theory developed by Simon Dik and his students (one of them being 
her later husband Dik Bakker). Collaboration with the Amsterdam FG 
typologists continued also in the later years (e.g. Hengeveld, Rijkhoff 
& Siewierska 2004). Her FG-oriented thinking shaped some of her broadly 
cross-linguistic work (e.g. Siewierska 1998a on dative alternations in a 
sample of over 200 languages, as well as Siewierska & Bakker 2005), but 
she never limited her approach in this way. Some of her work was 
inspired by Lexical-Functional Grammar (e.g. Siewierska 1999a), some of 
it by construction grammar (Hollmann & Siewierska 2007), and some by 
Cognitive Linguistics (Hollmann & Siewierska 2011). She was always happy 
to see dialogue between linguists of different outlooks (e.g. Siewierska 

An early interest of Anna’s was word order, not only from a typological, 
but also from a grammatical-theory point of view. Her book on word order 
rules (Siewierska 1988) drew on a wide range of ideas, but perhaps 
because generative grammar was the overwhelmingly dominant approach to 
word order at the time, the book was not as influential as it might have 
been otherwise. In 1990 she became the leader of the EUROTYP word order 
group, which was her first leadership position in typology at an 
international level (the results were published as Siewierska (ed.) 1998).

One of the members of this group was computational typologist Dik 
Bakker, with whom she subsequently built a large-scale typological 
database dealing with argument marking, pronouns and other phenomena in 
several hundred languages. Some of the data from that database were 
published in WALS (e.g. Siewierska 2005), and they were a solid 
cross-linguistic basis for her book on personal pronouns and
person agreement markers (Siewierska 2004). Agreement and person forms 
had become one of Anna’s research foci in the late 1990s (Siewierska 
1998a, 1999ab, 2003); she referred to these simply as “person forms”, 
noting that there is a typological continuum from agreement markers to 
personal pronouns (Siewierska & Bakker 2005).

Anna was not a fieldworker, but working with individual languages and 
with corpora was not alien to her. She worked on her native Polish (e.g. 
Siewierska 1993) and, after moving to Lancaster, on the Lancashire 
dialect of English (Hollmann & Siewierska 2007, 2011). And most 
recently, she developed an interest in Chinese (Siewierska, Xu & Xia 
2010). Of course she had many students who worked on particular 
languages, and after the first Syntax of the World’s Languages 
conference was held in 2004, where typologically oriented fieldworkers 
and typologists came together, she decided to host this conference in 
Lancaster in 2006. She was very active in finding subsequent venues for 
this conference series and tried to strengthen its ties with ALT.

Anna Siewierska was a model scholar who not only advanced the field by 
her ideas and scholarly practice (including her well-prepared and clear 
presentations), but was also a great organizer who brought people 
together. She played an important role in reinvigorating the Societas 
Linguistica Europaea, and after that had been accomplished, she steered 
ALT with the same energy and friendliness. She brought together 
functionalists and formalists, Eastern European and Western European 
linguists, and most recently, Western and Chinese linguists as part of a 
campaign to raise awareness of typology as a subfield in China. One of 
her latest projects was an edited book on typology to be published in 
Chinese in China.

The small world of typology has become emptier. Many of us have lost a 
good friend who will be dearly missed.


Hengeveld, Kees, Jan Rijkhoff & Anna Siewierska. 2004. Parts of speech
systems as a basic typological parameter. Journal of Linguistics 40.2:

Hollmann, Willem B. & Anna Siewierska. 2007. A construction grammar
account of possessive constructions in Lancashire dialect: some 
advantages and challenges. English Language and Linguistics 11: 407-424.

Hollmann, Willem B. & Anna Siewierska. 2011. The status of frequency, 
schemas, and identity in Cognitive Sociolinguistics: A case study on 
definite article reduction. Cognitive Linguistics 22.1: 25-54.

Malchukov, Andrej, & Anna Siewierska (eds.). 2011. Impersonal 
constructions: a cross-linguistic perspective. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

       Siewierska, Anna. 1984. The passive: A comparative linguistic 
analysis. London: Routledge.

Siewierska, Anna. 1988. Word Order Rules. Kent: Croom Helm.

Siewierska, Anna. 1991. Functional grammar. London: Routledge.

Siewierska, Anna. 1993. Subject and object order in written Polish: some 
statistical data. Folia Linguistica  27. 1/2, 147-169.

Siewierska, Anna. 1998a. Nominal and verbal person marking. Linguistic 
Typology  2, 1-53.

Siewierska, Anna. 1998b. Languages with and without objects. Languages 
in Contrast 1.2: 173-190.

Siewierska, Anna (ed.) 1998. Constituent order in the languages of 
Europe. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Siewierska, Anna. 1999a. Reduced pronominals and argument prominence. In 
Miriam Butt and Tracy Holloway King (eds.), Proceedings of the LFG 99 
Conference. Stanford: CSIL Publications.

Siewierska, Anna. 1999b. From anaphoric pronoun to grammatical agreement 
marker: why objects don't make it.  Folia Linguistica 33/2 : 225-251.

Siewierska, Anna. 2003. Person agreement and the determination of 
alignment. Transactions of the Philological Society 101.2, 339-370.

Siewierska, Anna. 2004. Person. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Siewierska, Anna. 2005. Verbal person marking. In Martin Haspelmath, 
Matthew S. Dryer, David Gil, & Bernard Comrie (eds.), The world atlas of 
language structures, 414-417. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Siewierska, Anna. 2006. Linguistic typology: where functionalism and 
formalism almost meet. In A. Duszak &  U. Okulska (eds.), Bridges and 
Walls in Metalinguistic Discourse. Berlin: Peter Lang, 57-76.

Siewierska, Anna & Bakker, Dik. 2005. The agreement cross-reference 
continuum: person marking in Functional Grammar. In: Kees Hengeveld & 
Casper de Groot (eds.), Morphosyntactic expression in Functional 
Grammar. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 203 - 248.

Siewierska, Anna & Song, Jae Jung (eds.) 1998. Case, typology and 
grammar (Barry Blake festschrift). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Siewierska, Anna & van Lier, Eva. 2011. ‘Introduce’ cross-linguistically 
– Towards a typology of non-prototypical three-participant construction. 
ALT Hong Kong.

Siewierska, Anna & Jiajin Xu &  Richard Xiao. 2010. Bang-le yi ge da 
mang (offered a big helping hand): A corpus study of the splittable 
compounds in spoken and written Chinese. Language Sciences 32: 464-487.

van Lier, Eva, Anna Siewierska & Alena Witzlack-Makarevich. 2011. 
Alignment typology in three-participant constructions. ALT Hong Kong.

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