In memoriam Michael Clyne

Michael Clyne with Emi Otsuji, the 2009 winner of the Michael Clyne Prize

I was saddened this morning to read the Australian Linguistics Society’s news about Michael Clyne’s passing! Australian sociolinguistics has lost its doyen, and we have all lost a strong advocate for a multilingual, multicultural, diverse and tolerant society. Michael has been a role model, mentor and friend to me and most other Australian sociolinguists over many years. One of our main concerns here on Language on the Move, monolingualism as a linguistic ideology, the so-called “monolingual mindset,” first emerged in his work.

I won’t attempt to provide an overview of this amazing work over five decades; a quick summary can be found at Monash University’s Arts Faculty. I want to write about how Michael’s work influenced my own work. I first read his 1981 book Deutsch als Muttersprache in Australien: Zur Ökologie einer Einwanderersprache (German as a mother tongue in Australia: the ecology of a migrant language) as an undergraduate student in Germany and it was one of the books and encounters that first sparked my interest in Australia that eventually brought me to this country.

I first met Michael in person when he visited Hamburg University to deliver a guest lecture in the late 1990s. At that time I was about to embark on a fieldtrip to Australia and I still remember Michael’s warmth and generosity with which he received my naïve and over-enthusiastic news that I had just received a scholarship to do research on bilingualism in Australia! Many senior academics would have been condescending in such an encounter but he was warm, inspiring, full of advice and generous enough to actually take a serious interest in my budding research.

And that’s how he followed my Australian career and that of many other migrant scholars over the years. Pursuing an academic career in a second language and in a country different from where you obtained your degrees is a difficult challenge, even if an increasingly common one, and Michael is one of the few colleagues not in that situation who understood that. He generously helped me with advice, recommendations and introductions in a very quiet and low-key manner. Thank you and Danke! It is in no small part due to his personal efforts that there is now a whole new generation of Australian sociolinguists from diverse backgrounds. The Michael Clyne prize for the best postgraduate thesis in immigrant bilingualism and language contact, which he generously funded, is a wonderful example of his legacy.

I also admire Michael Clyne for his advocacy. Michael did not only study bilingualism and intercultural communication for their own sake but as a contribution to a better Australia. It was his mission to promote bilingualism and bilingual education. He spoke out against the divisive political rhetoric and anti-immigrant stances that re-emerged during the Howard years. It was a compassion born of personal experience. I remember him telling the anecdote of his immigrant father changing the German family name “Klein” to “Clyne” to make it Anglo-sounding and to escape the anti-German feeling prevalent in Australia in the first half of the 20th century.

We have lost a wonderful scholar, advocate, mentor and friend. Vale Michael Clyne! Clyne, M. (2005). The use of exclusionary language to manipulate opinion: John Howard, asylum seekers and the reemergence of political incorrectness in Australia Journal of Language and Politics, 4 (2), 173-196 DOI: 10.1075/jlp.4.2.03cly

Author Ingrid Piller

Dr Ingrid Piller is Professor of Applied Linguistics at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Ingrid’s research expertise is in the fields of intercultural communication, bilingual education and the sociolinguistics of language learning and multilingualism in the contexts of migration and globalization.

More posts by Ingrid Piller
  • Emi Otsuji

    I am very shocked and sad to hear the news. I only met him once at the Ipra conference in 2009 when Ingrid kindly introduced him to me. He gave me very warm and encouraging words and listened to my work very carefully. I admired his genuine contribution not only to academia but also to the multilingual world at the grassroot level. I heard that he lived his last days as he did the rest of his life ―by passionately engaging in promoting the importance of multilingualism. I feel very honoured to be the Michael Clyne award recipient and I would like to spread his spirit to make our society more linguistically inclusive. Thank you so much Ingrid for sharing your wonderful story with us. I will miss him greatly.

  • Loy Lising

    What a terrible news! I feel really saddened with Michaels passing. Like many others, my connection to him has mostly been through his works – reading them and being encouraged by them. I only had one brief face-to-face encounter with Michael during the ALS conference in 2008. I was amazed by the generous attention he gave me as he asked about my work. I was deeply moved by his genuine interest – a man of such academic stature paying attention to someone so insignificant – and yet I left that conversation so encouraged and so hopeful. Michael, may all the good things you have done on earth echo in eternity. You will be missed.
    Thank you, Ingrid, for sharing the news and your story.

  • See also Jane Simpson’s obituary on Transient Languages & Cultures

  • Peter Austin

    Thanks Ingrid for sharing these thoughts — you have captured the spirit of Michael and why we will miss him.

    • Lachlan Jackson

      Thanks Ingrid for sharing your story and the sad news. I met Michael Clyne at the University of Queensland where he was visiting as an adjunct professor. I am another of the no doubt counless number of students who he generously shared his time and enthusiasm. At the time, I was just starting my doctoral work and couldnt see the wood for the trees. He kindly offered to have lunch with me and give me a chance to bounce some rough, uninformed ideas off him. Eating lunch on a bench in the UQ grounds that afternoon, I too was struck by his down-to-earth warmth, patience, and willingness to help a novice beginner such as myself. He will no doubt be missed by many.

  • In early 1994 I submitted my PhD thesis proposal for admission to Monash Faculty of Arts. My proposal was on the Vietnamese literature. At the time of my submission I didn’t know in which department the proposal would end up and was considered. Then one morning in early March 1994 Michael Clyne phoned me. He introduced himself and gave me a very brief on code-switching topic. He gave me an appointment with him to ‘further discuss’ the topic. He convinced me to change my research topic into language contacts through counsel and friendship. That was how I became Michael’s student. We met fortnightly since then until he agreed for me to submit my thesis to be examined by Oxford in September 1996.
    I had the honour of knowing Michael for almost two decades. I learned a lot from the way he commented (orally and written) on my writing. He put questions such as ‘why do you put these words into quotation marks’, ‘why italics’, or ‘this is not academic writing, it’s a phrase often used in sho

  • Michele de Courcy

    What words can express my grief? I would not have lived the life I lived as an academic, or chosen the path I chose to research, without Michael. He was my mentor, my adviser, my friend, my wise counsellor. Thank you Michael for letting me learn to ‘let go and let God’ and for all the other kind and wise things you said to me during our long friendship. Rest in peace, dear Michael.

  • Ivan Kolarik, OAM

    I learned with a great deal of sadness about Micheal’s passing. He was not only a great scholar admired and respected by his students and colleagues, but in my view even more importantly, he was a wonderful, deeply caring, gentle and humble human being. He was one of the true pioneers on multiculturalism and as such he contributed in no small measure to the acceptance of the ideals of multicultural society by the general community. He will be sorely missed by many people. I honoured and privileged to know you Michael.

  • Michaels work in promoting Australias multiculturalism particularly through mother tongue maintenance and hence the development of our heritage languages was persistent and inspiring. We owe him a great debt and he will be much missed. I offer my sympathy to Michaels wife, Irene ODonohue and daughter Joanne.

  • Taryn La Brooy

    Australia is poorer for the loss of Michael: a brilliant linguist, champion of multiculturalism, wonderful lecturer (always wore a smile!) and genuinely caring person. It was a privilege to be his student, but I will miss him more as a friend. Thank you for everything, Michael – you are an inspiration.

  • Jillian Symons

    Jillian Symons and the staff at Intext Book Company pass on our sympathies to Michaels family. He always would stop at the exhibit of resources for a few words. As is written above, Australia will be poorer for his loss. His achievements were many and great in our world of language learning and teaching.

  • Tony Ferguson

    I was shocked to the core to read of Michaels passing in the obituary in The Age newspaper online this morning. As a secondary school teacher of English to immigrants and refugees, I very much appreciated Michaels work, his scholarship and practical application of it in research and projects, public advocacy and wisdom. Among all his roles, he was an ever-reliable member of our Victorian Association of TESOL and Multicultural Education, for whose activities and newsletter he and his work were the source of so many resources.

    I was very fortunate to participate in his unit on Bilingualism, Language Ecology and Ethnic Groups at Monash in 1975. I will never forget how when he was admitted to hospital for serious emergency surgery, he made audiocassette tapes for our classes, so that with the assistance of George Saunders, it was almost as if he were there in person. On the cassette, he not only provided input, but conducted discussion.

    A wonderful teacher and colleague.

  • Dr. Irene Donohoue Clyne

    Thank you to all of you for the very kind comments you made about my late husband Michael Clyne. I am spending this first day of 2011 decommissioning his computer and email address. First and foremost Michael was a teacher who loved to inspire others with his enthusiasm for an inclusive multi-lingual world. He was so proud of all his students and the great contributions you have made. Thank you for all the joy you gave him. irene donohoue clyne

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  • Sadami Konchi