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