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William Burley Lockwood 1917 - 2012

calm water

William Burley Lockwood, who died on April 30 at the age of 95, was a scholar of international repute and Professor of Germanic and Indo-European Philology at Reading from 1968 until his retirement in 1982. 

In the introduction to a special number of the journal German Life and Letters marking the retirement, the then Head of German, Bill Coupe, referred to the "somewhat unusual route" by which Bill Lockwood had arrived at German Studies, and that was also true of his subsequent career. 

After leaving school he had worked in a hotel, on the railways,  and in casual employment in Frankfurt at the time of the Munich crisis of 1938.  In the following year he went to Manchester University and obtained First Class Honours in German in 1942, followed by a DipEd at Bristol.

After a brief appointment in the German Department at Durham in 1945 Bill Lockwood taught at the University of Birmingham, until in 1961 he received an invitation to the Chair of Comparative Philology at the Humboldt-Universität in East Berlin, the capital of the German Democratic Republic.

As he left Birmingham, the University awarded him a D.Litt. on the basis of his many publications. 1961 was however the year in which the Communist regime erected its infamous wall, and after four years of increasing disillusionment with the political climate he returned to the West.

A year later he was invited to take up a specially established readership at Reading, which was converted into a chair in 1968, and he remained at Reading until his retirement.

Bill Lockwood's scholarly reputation was as a philologist of incomparable diversity.  His knowledge covered the Germanic languages, including Yiddish, Faroese and Old Norse, but also the Celtic, Hellenic and Slavonic languages.

 His first two books (1955 and 1961) and a seemingly never ending series of articles in the Faroese journal  FróÄ‘skaparrit were testimony to his early and abiding specialisation in the language and in particular the etymology of the bird names on the Faroe Islands, an interest that later bore fruit closer to home with the publication of The Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names (1984, 2nd edn. 1993). His major monographs were An Informal History of the German Language (1965, 2nd edn. 1976), Historical German Syntax (1968), A Panorama of Indo-European Languages (1972), Languages of the British Isles Past and Present (1975), German Today: The Advanced Learner's Guide (1987),  Lehrbuch der modernen jiddischen Sprache (1995), An Informal Introduction to English Etymology (1995). 

His numerous articles ranged over Germanic and many other languages. For an interesting insight into his philological versatility I am indebted to Jane Gardner, Emeritus Professor of Classics, who recalls an article he published in 1968 concerning an inscription on a fragment of an Athenian vase, in what is now the Ure Museum, that he had been able to identify as Etruscan.

His fascination with names covered not only those of birds but also people, and I recall a new German colleague with the surname Jacobi being somewhat taken aback when Bill enquired on first meeting her why her name was in the genitive!

Bill Lockwood's prolific output was facilitated in part by his carefully honed self-styled unsuitability for administrative duties, a skill that might have inspired many a future academic in the run-up to the latest round of RAE or REF. That tactic was however never extended to his teaching - in language present and past, practical and analytical -  in which he took great interest and pride,  and which in turn inspired many doctoral theses and postgraduate projects. 

He was always supportive of his students and also believed passionately that academics were the best judge of a student's ability and of the degree classification that a student merited, whatever the arithmetic might suggest; discussions at examiners' meetings were often lively and one suspects that he would have viewed the current system of classification by computer with considerable suspicion.

I find it difficult to believe that Bill Lockwood and I were only colleagues in the full sense for the first seven years of my own career at Reading, as he remained part of the team for so much longer. As the dates of his publications indicate, his research continued well into his retirement and was arguably held back more by his loyalty to his typewriter and his mistrust of new technologies than by any diminution of his faculties.

When on one occasion he was finding it impossible to get hold of the text of the Lord's Prayer in Cassubian he was amazed that a colleague was able to find it on the internet in about ten seconds. One can only speculate as to what he might have said on discovering that his 1955 book An Introduction to Modern Faroese is now available on Kindle!

Bill Lockwood was an intensely private man, devoted to his research, but he was more than simply an outstanding academic. He was sensitive to the interests of others and would often enquire cautiously but genuinely as to the well-being of colleagues with young and not so young children.

In 1982, Bill Coupe wrote of Bill Lockwood's "unquenchably youthful enthusiasm for solving linguistic problems", and that enthusiasm continued to fascinate and inspire colleagues until very recently, when concerns over the health of his wife Erika in Germany put an end to his frequent visits to the University. Colleagues will remember him with immeasurable respect and great affection.

Dr Ian Roe


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