Burchfield, Robert William 1923-2004

views updated

BURCHFIELD, Robert William 1923-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born January 27, 1923, in Wanganui, New Zealand; died July 5, 2004, in Oxfordshire, England. Educator, editor, and author. Burchfield was a lexicographer best known for his long editorship of the Oxford English Dictionary during the 1970s and early 1980s. Before the onset of World War II, he studied at Wanganui Technical College. He then joined the Royal New Zealand Artillery, serving in Italy. With the war over, he returned to his studies, earning a master's degree from Victoria University in 1948 before traveling to Magdalen University, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar. At Oxford, Burchfield had the unique opportunity to study under C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, and earned a second master's degree in 1955. He taught at Christ Church during the mid-1950s and joined the faculty at St. Peter's College in 1955. He remained at St. Peter's for the rest of his academic career, becoming a senior research fellow in 1979 and retiring as fellow emeritus in 1990. But it was his work as chief editor of the Oxford English dictionaries from 1971 to 1984 that Burchfield was most often recognized. His liberal ideas about what to include in language reference works—such as dialects, slang, trademarked terms, and even words from such languages as Maori—was often attacked; he even received death threats on occasion from racists who did not wish to see foreign words included in the venerable OED. Through it all, Burchfield maintained that he was only trying to faithfully record the English language as it is actually used, not how it should appear in its purist form. Among Burchfield's own writings are such works as The Quality of Spoken English on BBC Radio (1979), The English Language (1985), and Unlocking the English Language (1989).



Daily Telegraph (London, England), July 6, 2004.

Guardian (London, England), July 7, 2004, p. 25.

Independent (London, England), July 9, 2004, p. 34.

Los Angeles Times, July 7, 2004, p. B10.

Times (London, England), July 6, 2004, p. 29.

Washington Post, July 9, 2004, p. B5.

About this article

Burchfield, Robert William 1923-2004

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article