Trask, Larry 1944-2004 (R. L. Trask)

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TRASK, Larry 1944-2004
(R. L. Trask)


See index for CA sketch: Born November 10, 1944, in Olean, NY; died of a motor neurone disease March 27, 2004, in Brighton, England. Linguist, chemist, educator, and author. Trask was a recognized authority on the Basque language. Originally trained as a chemist, during the 1960s he earned a B.S. in the subject from Rensseleaer Polytechnic and an M.S. from Brandeis University. Abandoning his Ph.D. studies, he joined the Peace Corps as a chemistry instructor and found himself teaching at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. He left Turkey in 1970 and moved to London, where he met his first wife, Esther Barrutia. Barrutia was a chemist from the Basque region of Spain, and Trask, who was already interested in languages at the time, became fascinated by the unique Basque tongue. This led him, in turn, to earn a Ph.D. in linguistics from the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University in 1983. By this time he was already Liverpool University. He moved on to the University of Sussex in 1988, becoming a full professor in 1998. Trask's intense study of the Basque language led him to conclude, unlike his colleagues, that Basque was uniquely unrelated to any other languages and that it had somehow evolved independently, a position he defended in his 1997 book, The History of Basque. The scholar was also unique in his arguments against the famous linguist Noam Chomsky, contending, contrary to Chomsky's position, that language is not somehow "hard-wired" into the human brain, compelling humans to follow basic rules of a universal grammar. Considered an entertaining and lucid writer, especially considering his difficult subject matter, Trask was also the author of such textbooks and scholarly works as Language Change (1994), A Dictionary of Phonetics and Phonology (1996), Historical Linguistics (1996), The Dictionary of Historical and Comparative Linguistics (2000), and Mind the Gaffe: The Penguin Guide to Common Errors in English (2001).



Guardian (London, England), April 8, 2004, p. 27.

Independent (London, England), April 7, 2004, p. 34.

Times (London, England), May 28, 2004, p. 44.