Prof Irene Philippaki-Warburton (1938-2023)
03 October 2023
We are sad to announce the death of Professor Irene Philippaki-Warburton, who died peacefully on Monday 28 August 2023. Irene worked at the University of Reading from 1970-2004, where she spent almost two decades as Professor of Linguistics.
Born in Heraklion, Crete, in 1938, Irene received her BA from the Department of English Language and Literature of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in 1962 and her PhD in Linguistics from Indiana University, USA, as a Fulbright Scholar.
She then taught Greek and linguistics and was a researcher at the Centre for African Studies at Indiana University (1962-1967) before being appointed Assistant Professor at the University of California, Irvine (1967-1969), where she taught Ancient Greek and Linguistics.
She was appointed to a permanent post at the University of Reading in 1970, where she taught theoretical linguistics, syntax and morphophonology. She retired from Reading in 2004 as Professor of Linguistics, a post she held since 1995.
Remarkable in those days, she was the only female member of academic staff in the Department at the time of her appointment and for many years thereafter.
At Reading, she established and directed the Center for Greek Studies in 2002 (in collaboration with T. Duff). Her reputation attracted many excellent Greek students to Reading who wanted to study with her.
In addition, she was Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Crete (1989-1992). She also served as a Visiting Professor at the University of Indiana (1974-1975) and at the University of Crete (1982-1989).
As a colleague, we knew her for her deep engagement in and enthusiasm for theoretical linguistics in the Chomskyan tradition. To this she brought her native knowledge of Greek as well as her command of English and other languages, and her own independence of thought. She belonged in, and was a prominent contributor to, the formidable reputation of the eclectic Department of Linguistic Science, now English Language and Applied Linguistics.
As a colleague, Irene was never an empire builder, being far more taken up with her subject; and as a teacher, her enthusiasm was legendary and was met by a great affection among generations of students. She regarded administration somewhat impatiently as a chore but this did not come in the way of providing leadership to other colleagues; when the Department of Linguistic Science became part of the School of Linguistics & Applied Language Studies, she was the natural choice for Head of the Linguistic Science Section.
And yet she did ‘build an empire’, in the best sense – involving international colleagues and generations of her own Greek students among many others.
Her many and significant achievements include the establishment of the International Conference of Greek Linguistics in 1993 (in collaboration with K. Nicolaidis), her contribution to the establishment and co-editing of the international Journal of Greek Linguistics (in collaboration with G. Drachman, G. Horrocks and B. Joseph), as well as serving as a scientific advisor to the project Paideia Omogenon (‘Education of Expatriates’) (1997-2008) and as the coordinator of the scientific committee of the project in Great Britain.
Those of us from Reading who were fortunate enough to be able to attend linguistics conferences with Irene in Greece were always delighted by the reception she received there. She was clearly regarded by Greek linguists with something close to reverence, especially by the younger Greek women, for whom she was obviously a brilliant role model.
And it was also very good to see how even more enthusiastic and animated than usual she herself would become amongst linguists in her native land. We would be very fortunate, especially in Crete, if we were able to accompany Irene to local restaurants and tavernas where, as a ‘native-eater’, she was able to order us delicious dishes which were not even on the menu.
Irene was presented with a festschrift acknowledging her work and standing at the 6th ICGL of September 2003 held appropriately enough her native Crete. Her colleagues at Reading noted with pleasure how she returned buzzing with energy from that occasion.
Sadly, Irene suffered with Parkinson’s disease after her retirement in 2004.
While much has changed in the University of Reading, particularly as far as Irene’s specialism is concerned, she will be remembered with affection and respect by her former colleagues here, by the many more in the wider linguistics community, and her legacy in the form of the ICGL will endure. We send our sympathies to her family of children and four grandchildren.
This summary of Irene’s career, up to and including her time at the University of Reading, has been reproduced here from the website of the 16th International Conference on Greek Linguistics, by kind permission of Professor Katerina Nicolaidis, Chair of the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.