QUIRK, (Charles)Randolph

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QUIRK, (Charles)Randolph British linguist. Born in the Isle of Man in 1920, he studied at U. College London, and was awarded the degrees BA, MA, Ph.D., D.Litt. from the U. of London. He was a lecturer in English at UCL (1947–52), Reader in English Language and Literature at the U. of Durham (1954–8), Professor of English Language at Durham (1958–60) and at UCL (1960–8), and Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at UCL (1968–81). He chaired a governmental Committee of Inquiry which reformed the training of speech therapists in the UK (HMSO, 1972), served as Vice-Chancellor of the U. of London (1981–5), as President of the British Academy (1985–9), was awarded the CBE in 1976, was knighted in 1985, and raised to the peerage as Lord Quirk of Bloomsbury in 1994. His scholarly activities cover a wide range of studies in the English language and related subjects. They include: the PHONOLOGY, MORPHOLOGY, VOCABULARY, and SYNTAX of OLD ENGLISH; editions of Old Icelandic texts; the language of DICKENS and SHAKESPEARE; the teaching of the English language; lexical studies of English in various periods; English as an international language; research and publications on modern English syntax.

He founded the SURVEY OF ENGLISH USAGE in 1959, continuing as its Director until 1981. At this research unit, he supervised the compilation and analysis of a corpus of spoken and written samples of the language used by adult educated native speakers of BrE. In association with researchers at the Survey, he developed techniques for eliciting usage and attitudes to usage. The analyses derived from the data in the Survey corpus and in elicitation experiments have resulted in numerous publications by Quirk himself and by scholars from all over the world, in particular the two major reference grammars on which he collaborated: A Grammar of Contemporary English (1972) and A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (1985). His approach to research has been theoretically eclectic and focused on the functions of language. He assigns priority to the meticulous examination of language data and to total accountability of the data. The pursuit of these priorities has induced him to assert the prominence of ANALOGY and gradience in the functioning of the language system; language categories are viewed as overlapping rather than discrete, and peripheral subcategories or individual items are shown to share to varying extents the features of the central members of a category. In his view, the description of English must take account of the stylistic variation occasioned by the relationship between participants in a DISCOURSE, the medium, the educational and social standing of the participants, and the subject matter of the discourse. He envisages the English language as having a common core shared by regional and stylistic varieties.