Emmon Bach (1929 - 2014)

Obituary
3 entries
  • "My favorite uncle, full of fun and music, Uncle Emmon was a..."
    - Linda Cosby
  • "To Wynn, Barbara and all who loved Emmon, Emmon was a..."
    - Lyn Frazier
  • "Thank you Dear Emmon. Your presence in our lives shall be..."
    - Anne Catherine Davis
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AMHERST - Emmon Bach of Oxford, England, formerly of Amherst, died at home Friday, Nov. 28, 2014, of pneumonia-induced sudden respiratory failure.

He was born June 12, 1929, in Kumamoto, Japan, the youngest of six children of Danish missionary parents Ditlev Gotthard Monrad Bach and Ellen Sigrid (Knudsen) Bach. He attended a Japanese kindergarten and remained fluent for life in what he called 'child Japanese'. The family spoke English at home, and after some home schooling, he attended the International Canadian Academy in Kobe. With advance warning about Japan's entry into the war, the family emigrated to the U.S. in 1941, when Emmon was 12.

He grew up first in Fresno, California, where his father was a pastor to Japanese-Americans interned during the war, and then Boulder, Colorado. He did his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Chicago, with a doctorate in Germanic studies in 1959. He taught at the University of Texas from 1959 to 1972, first in the German department, and then in linguistics, then at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York from 1972 to 1973. From 1973 until his retirement in 1992, he was professor of linguistics, and then sapir professor of linguistics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he served as department head from 1977 until 1985. He taught syntax, semantics, typology and field methods, and supervised 12 doctorate dissertations in semantics, syntax and phonology. He was a key part of the department's rise to prominence in the 1970's and a big influence on the warm collegiality the department became known for. He was elected president of the Linguistic Society of America in 1996.

Emmon published articles and books on syntax, phonology, morphology and semantics, including on problems of tense and aspect in semantics, and on formal problems and semantic issues in the morphology of polysynthetic languages. He made important contributions to the linguistic study of languages of British Columbia, especially Haisla (Wakashan) and Coast Tsimshian (Tsimshianic), and also Western Abenaki (Algonquian).

For several years in the 1980's and 1990's, he taught linguistics and co-taught Haisla and Coast Tsimshian in British Columbia, where he held a visiting position at the University of Northern British Columbia. After his retirement from UMass, he held an appointment as a professorial research associate at SOAS, University of London, where he taught semantics and field methods; in the last several years he was affiliated with the linguistics department of Oxford University.

Beyond his scientific interests, he was also concerned with language rights and problems of language endangerment. He also wrote poetry, including five sonnets published in the Massachusetts Review in spring 1985. Although his older siblings assured him in childhood that his attempts to learn to play the violin were hopeless (they had neglected to confess that their first attempts sounded just as bad), Emmon was irrepressibly musical. He sang Nanki-Poo in the Mikado in high school, and enjoyed singing all his life. When his son and daughter were in high school, he got himself a guitar, but was distressed to discover coming home one day that they had picked up his guitar and had become much better at it in one day than he was. So he went out and bought a banjo, forbidding his kids to touch it. The banjo remained his main instrument; he delighted his step-son Joel Partee's nursery school class with it, and later charmed Joel's daughter Rachael with it when she was a baby. He later took up the mandolin, spoons, and various other instruments, including most recently the didgeridoo.

Emmon was predeceased by his beloved daughter Meta Elizabeth Bach in 1984, by his first wife Jean Bach, and by his siblings Stanley Bach, Sven Bach, Austin Bach, and Betty Deshner.

He is survived by his wife Wynn Chao of London; his son Carl Eric Bach and his grandson Carl Esteban (Stevie) Bach of Madison, Wisconsin; his step-sons Morriss, David and Joel Partee; his step-children Christopher and Gabriella Lewis; three step-grandchildren and a step-great-grandson; his second wife Reed Young of Houston, Texas; his third wife Barbara Partee of Amherst; and one remaining brother, David Bach of Ventura, California.

His funeral was held Saturday, Dec. 13, at St. John's Chapel, Oxford Crematorium, in Oxford. There will be a memorial event sometime in the spring semester organized by his linguistic colleagues at UMass Amherst. Information about the event will be shared on the memorial web page for Emmon, where reminiscences and tributes may also be shared http://blogs.umass.edu/linguist/emmon-bach-in-memoriam/

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Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette on Dec. 30, 2014
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