Professor Emerita Sandra Thompson Receives John J. Gumperz Life-Time Achievement Award

At the 15th International Pragmatics Conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland in July 2017, UCSB Linguistics Professor Emerita Sandra Thompson was awarded the International Pragmatics Association’s inaugural John J. Gumperz Life-Time Achievement Award. This award is for scholars who “have made a significant and internationally recognized contribution to the field of linguistic pragmatics”.

In introducing the award, the IPrA said: "Sandra A. Thompson has had a long and illustrious career in the field of language use and pragmatics. As early as the 1970s and 1980s she was advocating the description of grammar based on language use (Li/Thompson, 1976, 1981) and, on the grounds of empirical evidence from discourse, was challenging the traditional understanding of grammatical notions such as transitivity (Hopper/Thompson 1980) and lexical categories such as noun or verb (Hopper/Thompson 1984). Her subsequent incisive and radical critique of, e.g., complementation (Thompson 2002), relative clauses (Fox/Thompson 1990), and grammatical units in general (Ford/Fox/Thompson 2013) in the light of discourse and conversational data has persisted to this day. This sustained and innovative output, extending over more than 40 years, has made Thompson’s name synonymous with the data-driven study of grammar in its discourse and conversational context -- an eminently pragmatic endeavor."

Accepting the award, Professor Thompson remarked: “I’m both honored and humbled to be the recipient of this award. I’m honored because I’ve been associated with IPrA since its inception… [and] humbled because this award itself is in honor of our late colleague and friend John Gumperz, whose shoes I will never fit into.”

Speaking of her work recognized by the award, she said: “I started grad school in the sixties, the early days of what was known then as ‘transformational grammar’, which promised to revolutionize the field of linguistics. With Chuck Fillmore as my mentor, we all played the game for a few years, but very quickly, it began to feel narrow and limiting, and it wasn’t hard to find numerous ways in which the transformational ‘rules’ didn’t address questions of communication, meaning, or sociality. At that point I abandoned generative grammar, and I have never looked back, as they say. I quickly came to see how exciting and stimulating it was to do collaborative research, and most of my research has been with one or more scholar-friends. It’s been the most intellectually satisfying and enriching way to do research that I can imagine. Starting with narrative discourse, I then began to work on the organization of conversation. I became fascinated by the ways in which grammar and conversational organization play off one another, and have been enjoying that work ever since."

(Photo courtesy of Dr. Camilla Wilde @camilla_wilde)