May 26, 2015

In memoriam: Barron Brainerd (1928-2015)

Barron Brainerd (1928-2015), who died last Tuesday, was a member of the Linguistics department from its inception as a Centre in 1964 until he retired in 1989. He was also professor in the Mathematics department. The courses he taught for us were in mathematical linguistics, and he had a lively interest in the syntax of number systems. Barron was born in New York City. He had degrees in Mathematics from MIT and Michigan. He came to the University in 1957 and became a Canadian citizen two years later. He was a member of the interdepartmental group that lobbied to get a Linguistics program, and he was always a staunch supporter of our initiatives. Barron had a patrician bearing, always neatly turned out. His interest in linguistics developed out of a lifelong curiosity about languages, and he loved working through dictionaries and grammars. RIP.

Marshall Chasin adds: Professor Brainerd was my undergraduate advisor in the Mathematics and Linguistics program. I think now that course of study would be called cognitive linguistics (?) but probably had more math back then. I once attended a seminar class where he wrote an equation on the board, then stared at the board for about 30 minutes without moving, and then started talking as if there was no delay. I worked for him during the summer of 1979 doing statistical analysis for him about quantifying Shakespeare's plays.

(Post courtesy of Jack Chambers.)


  1. I worked with Barron as a graduate student, also doing statistical analyses of Shakespeare and reputed co-authors.

    I subsequently did a supervised study course on the application of set theory and distinctive feature theory to change in speech sounds over time during speech acts.
    We were going to develop the idea further when life took me in another direction. Remember his reserve and kindness with fondness. So sad to learn of his passing and condolences to all who loved him.

    Rubin Friedman

  2. I along these lines did an administered concentrate course on the use of set hypothesis and particular component hypothesis to change in discourse sounds after some time amid discourse acts.

    We were going to add to the thought further when life took me in another course. Keep in mind his store and generosity with affection. So pitiful to learn of his passing and sympathies to all who adored him.