Obituary: Professor Sidney Greenbaum

Sidney Greenbaum did not achieve his three score years and ten, but he achieved much else in a varied and rather unortho-dox career. Yet that last phrase seems distinctly ill-chosen, for if there was anything invariant in his life, it was his strictly observant devotion to orthodox Judaism, to the Jewish community wherever he lived, and beyond that to the state of Israel where he regularly visited his only brother Avram, to whom and to whose family he was deeply attached. Devotion also to the ancient sacred Jewish texts in which he took both a religious and a scholarly interest, as befitted one whose first degrees were a London BA and MA in Hebrew and Aramaic.

Already holding a Hebrew teaching diploma, to which was subsequently added a minister's diploma from Jews' College, London, and a teaching diploma from the Institute of Education, he was exceptionally well-qualified for the career in schoolteaching on which he embarked. This was at the Hasmonean Boys School in Hendon, but - as he said in an interview for the Jewish Chronicle earlier this year - "the scope for teaching modern Hebrew at that time - the mid-1950s - was very limited", so he added the teaching of English to his repertoire, made the more convincing by simultaneously studying at Birkbeck College for an Honours English degree.

Perhaps it was this second BA that stimulated an interest in medieval studies, resulting in his coming to see me at University College London in 1964 to discuss a projected medieval research topic. In the event, his visit caused a switch of interest to modern English syntax, and his appointment to a research assistantship on the Survey of English Usage, a project that has existed since 1959 for the purpose of describing present- day English grammar.

The consequent loss to secondary education and medieval studies was offset by the notable book, Studies in English Adverbial Usage (1969), that grew out of the PhD thesis on which he had speedily engaged. This work was based on an innovative psycholinguistic methodology which he and I then pursued in a fruitful collaboration that lasted more than two decades: the happiest years, I suspect, of his entire life (certainly years of a sunny laughter-loving that one somewhat missed in his last decade). It was a collaboration that survived his departure from London for a series of appointments: in Israel, in Oregon, and in Milwaukee (Wisconsin) - this last rewarded, years later, by an honorary doctorate.

He returned to Britain in 1983 to succeed me both as Quain Professor and as Director of the Survey. His interest in elicitation and psycholinguistics was now quite suddenly replaced by an equally single-minded immersion in computational technology as applied to the study of corpus material. As well as converting the Survey of English Usage corpus into machine- readable form (and writing copiously the while such books as A College Grammar of English and most recently The Oxford English Grammar), he set about organising numerous matching corpora illustrating the various kinds of English in use throughout the world. At the time of his shockingly sudden death, he was just seeing through the press a book entitled Comparing English Worldwide, shortly to be published by Oxford University Press and comprising chapters written by many from among the international band of scholars he had enlisted.

Quiet, mild and equable in temperament, Sidney (or Salman) Greenbaum was not a man one could be confident of really knowing. For all his love of entertaining, not least at the Reform Club, membership of which gave him enormous pleasure, he was a decidedly private man, rather ill at ease socially, with a sometimes brusque manner which may have been directed at concealing the shy, perhaps lonely, perhaps even unhappy man within. If so, all the more commendable his achievements, all the more treasured the memory of his generous hospitality by those who thought of themselves as his friends.

Sidney Greenbaum, English language scholar: born London 31 December 1929; Quain Professor of English Language and Literature, University College London 1983-90, Director of the Survey of English Usage, 1983-96, Dean of the Faculty of Arts 1988-90, Visiting Professor 1991-96; books include: Studies in English Adverbial Usage 1969; (jointly) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language 1985; The Oxford English Grammar 1996; died Moscow 28 May 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Day In a Page

Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions