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Professor Geoffrey Leech

Formerly at Lancaster University

Geoffrey Leech


It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Leech on Tuesday 19 August, at the age of 78. Our thoughts, and deepest condolences, are with his family, friends and colleagues during this sad time.

In memory: Geoffrey Leech (1936-2014)




He was Professor of Linguistics and Modern English Language at Lancaster University from 1974 to 1996. He then became Research Professor in English Linguistics. He has been Emeritus Professor in the Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University, since 2002.


[See downloadable publications below] He has written, co-authored or co-edited over 30 books and over 120 articles and papers in the areas of English grammar, literary stylistics, semantics, computational linguistics, corpus linguistics and pragmatics. They include:

· English in Advertising: A Linguistic Study of Advertising in Great Britain (1966)

· A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry (1969)

· Meaning and the English Verb (1971, 2nd edn. 1987; 3rd edn. 2004)

· Semantics (1974; 2nd edn. 1981)

· A Communicative Grammar of English (with J. Svartvik) (1975, 2nd edn. 1994, 3rd edn. 2002)

· Style in Fiction: A Linguistic Introduction to English Fictional Prose (with M. Short) (1981; 2nd edn. 2007)

· Principles of Pragmatics (1983)

· A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (with R. Quirk, S. Greenbaum and J. Svartvik) (1985)

· Spoken English on Computer: Transcription, Mark-up and Application (ed. with G. Myers and J. Thomas) (1995)

· Corpus Annotation: Linguistic Information from Computer Text Corpora (ed. with R. Garside and T. McEnery) (1997)

· Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English (with D. Biber, S. Johansson , S. Conrad and E. Finegan) (1999)

· An A-Z of English Grammar and Usage (with B. Cruickshank and R. Ivanic) (2001)

· Word Frequencies in Written and Spoken English: based on the British National Corpus (with P. Rayson and A. Wilson) (2001)

· Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English (with D. Biber and S. Conrad) (2002)

· A Glossary of English Grammar (2006)

· English - One Tongue, Many Voices (with J. Svartvik) (2006)

· Language in Literature: Style and Foregrounding (2008)

· Change in Contemporary English: A Grammatical Study (with M. Hundt, Ch. Mair and N.Smith) (2009)

Full details of these and other publications, including articles and book chapters, can be found in the curriculum vitae which is downloadable in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format.


A. Corpus Compilation and Annotation

1. Over the past forty years a major research interest of Geoff Leech has been the use of computer corpora for the analysis and processing of the English Language. This began in 1970 when he started to build a 1,000,000-word corpus of British English matching as closely as possible the Brown Corpus of written American English, which had recently been completed. The project led eventually (with the help of Stig Johansson and others) to the completion and 'publication' of the Lancaster-Oslo/Bergen (LOB) Corpus in 1978. After this, with Roger Garside, he worked on the word-class tagging of the LOB Corpus. [Research supported by Longman, the British Academy, and the SSRC.]

2. In 1991-1995 he was leader of the Lancaster team as part of the consortium which built the British National Corpus (1991-1995), the well-known 100,000,000-word corpus of modern English written texts and spoken transcriptions: http://info.ox.ac.uk/bnc/. Lancaster was responsible for the word-class tagging of the whole BNC. Later (1995-1999), he worked with Nick Smith on the improvement of the BNC's word-class tagging, for a second, world-wide release of the corpus (BNC-World) in 2000. [Research supported by the EPSRC] Website: http://ucrel.lancs.ac.uk/projects.html#bnc

3. From 1999 to 2008 he worked with Nick Smith (Lancaster, Salford), Christian Mair (Freiburg) and Marianne Hundt (Heidelberg, Zurich) on the word-class tagging and grammatical analysis of the Freiburg-Lancaster-Oslo/Bergen ('FLOB') and Freiburg-Brown ('Frown') Corpora. These corpora of British and American written English match the LOB and Brown Corpora except that they contain extracts from publications of 1991 and 1992, instead of 1961. This allows researchers to track changes in the use of English grammar over a thirty-year period, as well as to make controlled contemporary comparisons between American and British English. One further extension of this project was the compilation of a corpus of British English over the period 1928-1934, reaching preliminary completion in 2007. This was provisionally entitled the 'Lancaster-1931 Corpus', but is now known as 'BLOB-1931' (B-LOB='before LOB'). It has enabled a further diachronic comparison of corpora to track changes in the period prior to that of the Brown and LOB Corpora. [Research supported by the AHRB, the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust]. (On further recent additions to the Brown 'family' of corpora, see http://www.ling.lancs.ac.uk/profiles/Paul-Baker/ on the AmE06 and BE06 corpora of 21st-century English.)

4. In 2001-2002 Geoff worked with Martin Weisser on the speech-act annotation of a corpus of approximately 1,000 goal-oriented service dialogues. The dialogues include the OASIS Corpus of dialogues made available for this research by British Telecom, and telephone call centre dialogues made available by The Trainline. [The research was supported by the EPSRC].

B. Corpus-based Study of English Grammar

Linked with the research topics of corpus compilation and annotation, Geoff Leech has been pursuing a number of different avenues of research on the corpus-based study of English grammar.

1. He participated in a seven-year project sponsored by the publishers Longman and led by Doug Biber (Northern Arizona University), to produce a 1200-page corpus-based grammar of English, focusing on American and British English and on the four registers of conversation, fiction writing, news writing, and academic writing. The book was eventually published in 1999 as Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English (LGSWE) by Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad and Finegan. Three strengths of the book are (a) its extensive investigation of grammatical frequency, (b) its detailed study of differences in the use of grammar in different varieties of language, and (c) its thorough exemplification of present-day English grammar through the citation of thousands of corpus examples. After the publication of this 'big' grammar, three members of the team (Biber, Conrad and Leech) wrote a shorter students' version, Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English, together with an accompanying Workbook.

2. Since his most innovative involvement in LGSWE was working on Chapter 14 'The grammar of conversation', he became particularly interested in how corpora throw light on the nature of grammar in the spoken language. He published three articles and one book chapter on this topic in 1998-2001, perhaps the most important being 'Grammars of spoken English: New implications of corpus-oriented research', Language Learning (2000) 50: 3, 675-724.

3. Out of the improved word-class tagging of the BNC (see A.2 above) came the opportunity to produce a book, with Paul Rayson and Andrew Wilson, on Word Frequency in Written and Spoken English (2001). Crucial to this book was the grammatical tagging of the BNC so that normalized frequencies - allowing for a small margin of error - could be assigned to lexemes and their grammatical variants. The BNC re-tagging also allowed frequencies, including frequencies of grammatical word classes, to be compared across different varieties of language in the corpus (notably spoken v. written English). This was the most advanced word frequency book of the English language yet published.

4. In collaboration with Christian Mair, Marianne Hundt and Nick Smith, he has worked on the comparable corpora mentioned in A.4 above, as well as other data, to investigate recent changes in English grammar. His publications in this area include 'Modality on the move: the English modal auxiliaries 1961-1992', in Roberta Facchinetti, Manfred Krug and Frank Palmer (eds.) Modality in Contemporary English , Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 2003, pp. 223-240, and a series of articles and papers co-authored with Nick Smith. Geoff was the lead author of a corpus-based book on this subject, co-authored with M. Hundt, Ch. Mair and N. Smith, Change in Contemporary English: A Grammatical Study, published in 2009 by CUP.

C. Other Research Interests

1. Pragmatics has recently become one of his active research interests once again, after a gap of twenty years. This is partly through work on the compilation of a speech-act annotated corpus (A.4 above) and partly through a revival of interest in the pragmatics of polite communication: see 'Politeness: Is there an East-West divide?', Journal of Foreign Languages (Shanghai) 6 (2005) 3-31 . A revised version of this article, with the same title, appeared in Journal of Politeness Research 3.2 (2007) 167-206.

2. Stylistics is another area of interest which has tended to lapse in recent years: but in 2005 Geoff and his colleague Mick Short won the PALA 25 Silver Jubilee Prize for the 'most influential book in stylistics' since the founding of PALA (the Poetics and Linguistics Association) in 1980. The prize was awarded for their book Style in Fiction (Longman 1981). As a consequence of this, Leech and Short hosted 'SIFS' (a Style in Fiction symposium) at Lancaster in March 2006. The proceedings of the symposium were published in the journal Style (2007) in a special number (Vol. 41.2) devoted to new developments in the stylistics of fiction, edited by Short and Leech. In 2007 the authors produced a second edition of Style in Fiction for Longman. Geoff also published, with Pearson/Longman, a book entitled Language in Literature: Style and Foregrounding (2008), containing eight articles on the stylistic analysis of poetry, prose and drama published in the period 1965-1992, as well as four new chapters both theoretical and applied, including one on corpus stylistics.

Recent Talks

March 2010 - 1 July 2010: Lectures on politeness and on various aspects of recent grammatical change in English at Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat, Oman (March 2010) and at seven south German universities: Giessen, Augsburg, Munich, Eichstätt, Regensburg, Erlangen, Bamburg (June 2010).

11 August 2010: Plenary paper at the 4th Conference on Modality in English, Universidad Complutense, Madrid: 'Where have all the modals gone?'.

25 November 2010: Lecture at the University of St Andrews: 'How the grammar of English has been changing: Using comparable corpora to track the recent history of a language'.

1 April 2011: Plenary paper at the 20th Conference on Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki: 'Growth and decline: How grammar has been changing in recent English.

16-24 June 2011: Lecture tour of five German Universities: Potsdam, Heidelberg, Mainz, Trier, Essen: lectures on politeness and on recent changes in English grammar.

7 July 2011: Lecture at the Conference of the International Pragmatics Association, University of Manchester: 'Pragmalinguistic vs. sociopragmatic politeness: A wrong turning in politeness theory?'.

19 August 2011: Keynote lecture at a symposium on corpus linguistics in honour of Jan Svartvik on his 80th birthday at Lund University, Sweden: 'Where have all the modals gone?'

22 September 2011: Keynote lecture at a conference on Style in Fiction Today, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publication of Style in Fiction by G. Leech and M. Short: Université de Lyon 3, France: 'Unwanted messages: Spam e-mail as a new fictional genre of stylistic interest'.

29 September 2011: Keynote lecture at the Helsinki Corpus Festival, University of Helsinki: 'Decline and disappearance: the negative side of recent change in standard English.'

22-24 March 2012: Keynote lecture at the AELINCO International Conference on Corpus Linguistics at the University of Jaén, Spain: 'Why do linguistic forms decline (and disappear)? - The negative side of recent change in standard English.'

17 April 2012: Lecture at the English Department, University of Zurich: 'Where have all the modals gone? On the recent loss of frequency of English modal auxiliaries.'

13 May 2012: Lecture in the Jelinek series, Centre for Mathematical Linguistics, Charles University, Prague: 'Decline and disappearance: The negative ide of change in standard English.

14 May 2012: Keynote lecture, Department of English Studies, Charles University, Prague: at a symposium celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of English studies at Prague: 'The changing English verb phrase: a study of comparable corpora'.

Recent Publications

Geoffrey Leech (2011) Selected Works of Geoffrey Leech on Applied Linguistics. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.

Paul Rayson, Sebastian Hoffmann and Geoffrey Leech (eds.) (2011) Methodological and Historical Dimensions of Corpus Linguistics. Studies in Variation, Contacts and Change in English, Vol. 6. http://www.helsinki.fi/varieng/journal/volumes/06/

Sebastian Hoffmann, Paul Rayson and Geoffrey Leech (eds.) (2012) English Corpus Linguistics: Looking Back, Moving Forward. Amsterdam: Rodopi. Papers from the 30thInternational Conference on English Language Research on Computerized Corpora(ICAME 30), Lancaster, UK, 27-31 May 2009. pp. vi + 266.

Geoffrey Leech (2010) 'Grammar on the move: Recent changes in English grammatical usage.' In JACET Summer Seminar Proceedings 9: English Grammar 1900-2000 and Politeness in English, Tokyo: The Japan Association of College English Teachers, 1-11. (A revised version of 99)

Geoffrey Leech (2010) 'Analysing literature through language: Two Shakespearean speeches.' In Daniel McIntyre and Beatrix Busse (eds.) Language and Style: In Honour of Mick Short. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.15-31.

Geoffrey Leech (2011) 'Frequency, corpora and language learning.' In: Fanny Meunier, Sylvie De Cock, Gaëtanelle Gilquin and Magali Paquot (eds), A Taste for Corpora. In Honour of Sylviane Granger. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins, pp. 7-32.

Geoffrey Leech (2011) 'The modals ARE declining: Reply to Neil Millar's "Modal verbs in TIME: Frequency changes 1923-2006", International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 14:2 (2009), 191-220, International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 16:4, 547-564.

Geoffrey Leech (2011) 'Principles and applications of corpus linguistics'. In Viana, V., Zyngier, S. and Barnbrook, G. (eds.) Perspectives on Corpus Linguistics Controversies. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Geoffrey Leech, Nicholas Smith and Paul Rayson (2012) 'English style on the move: Changing stylistic norms in the twentieth century.' In M. Kytö (ed.) English Corpus Linguistics: Crossing Paths. Amsterdam: Rodopi, pp. 69-98.


Jelisaveta Milojević (2011) 'Interview: Geoffrey Leech "Leave no stone unturned I the search for linguistic reality', BELLS (Belgrade English Language and Literature Studies) 2 (2011), 321-333.

Liu Feng-guang, Lin Xiao-ying and Xu Jun (2009) 'Prof. Leech's View on Pragmatics and Stylistics', Foreign Languages and their Teaching, 1, 17-21.

Paloma Núñez Pertejo (2007) 'An interview with Geoffrey Leech: Santiago de Compostela, June 9, 2006.' Atlantis, 29.1 (June 2007), 143-156.

Career Details

Assistant Lecturer, University College London - 1962-4

Harkness Fellow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology - 1964-5

Lecturer, University College London - 1965-9

Reader in English Language, Lancaster University - 1969-74

Professor of Linguistics and Modern English Language, Lancaster University - 1974-1996

Research Professor in English Linguistics, Lancaster University - 1996-2001

Emeritus Professor of English Linguistics, Lancaster University - from 2002

For full details see Geoffrey Neil Leech - An Academic Autobiography (PDF) 12 June 2009

Additional Information

Downloadable publications

Leech, G. (1998) 'English grammar in conversation'. In A. Wilson and J. Schmied (eds.) Language Learning and Computers: Proceedings of the Chemnitz Symposium 20-21 February 1998.pp. 1-10.

Leech, G. (2001), 'The role of frequency in ELT: New corpus evidence brings a re-appraisal', in Hu Wenzhong (ed.) ELT in China 2001: Papers presented at the 3rd International Symposium on ELT in China', Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, pp. 1-23.

Leech, G. (2004), 'Recent grammatical change in English: data, description, theory', in K. Aijmer and B. Altenberg (eds.), Advances in Corpus Linguistics: Papers from the 23rd International Conference on English Language Research on Computerized Corpora (ICAME 23) Göteborg 22-26 May 2002, Amsterdam: Rodopi, pp. 61-81.

Leech, G. (2005) 'Politeness: Is there an East-West divide?', Journal of Foreign Languages, Shanghai, 6, 3-31. A revised version has been published in: Journal of Politeness Research, 3.2 (2006), 167-206.

Leech, G. (2007) 'The unique heritage of place-names in North West England.' In Y. Nakao (ed.) Text, Language and Interpretation: Essays in Honour of Keiko Ikegami, pp. 43-62.

Leech, G. (2007) 'New resources, or just better old ones? The Holy Grail of representativeness,' in M. Hundt, N. Nesselhauf and C. Biewer (eds.) Corpus Linguistics and the Web, Amsterdam: Rodopi, pp. 133-49.

Leech, G. (2007) 'Style in fiction revisited: the beginning of Great Expectations.' Style, 41.2, 117-132.

Leech, G. and Smith, N. (2005), 'Extending the possibilities of corpus-based research on English in the twentieth century: a prequel to LOB and FLOB', ICAME Journal, 29: 83-98.

Leech, G. and Smith, N. (2006) 'Recent grammatical change in written English 1961-1992: some preliminary findings of a comparison of American with British English.' In Renouf, A. and Kehoe, A. (ed.), The Changing Face of Corpus Linguistics, Amsterdam: Rodopi, pp. 186-204.

Leech, G. and Weisser, M. (2003) 'Generic speech act annotation for task-oriented dialogues', in D. Archer, P. Rayson, A. Wilson and T. McEnery (eds.) Proceedings of the Corpus Linguistics 2003 conference, University Centre for Computer Corpus Research on Language, Technical Papers 16.1, pp. 441-6.

Leech, G., M. Weisser, A. Wilson and M. Grice (1998) Survey and Guidelines for the Representation and Annotationof Dialogue.LE-EAGLES-WP4-4. Integrated Resources Working Group.

Mair, C., Hundt, M., Leech, G., and Smith, N. (2003), 'Short term diachronic shifts in part-of-speech frequencies: a comparison of the tagged LOB and F-LOB corpora', International Journal of Corpus Linguistics, 7: 2, 245-264.

Mair, C. and Leech, G. (2006) 'Current change in English syntax', Chapter 14 in B. Aarts and A. MacMahon (eds.) TheHandbook of English Linguistics, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 318-342.

Honorary Fellowship and Celebratory Conference

In March 2009, Geoffrey Leech was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of Lancaster University, in recognition of his service and contribution to the University, particularly in research. The year 2009 also marked the fortieth anniversary of his first appointment at Lancaster University.

In May 2009, Geoffrey Leech was one of the organizers hosting a celebratory conference held at the Lancaster House Hotel. This was the Thirtieth Conference of ICAME (the International Computer Archive of Modern and Medieval English), of which Geoffrey was one of the founding members in 1977. ICAME, the world's oldest association for research in corpus linguistics, in a sense began at Lancaster University in 1970, when Geoffrey started CAMET (Computer Archive of Modern English Texts), one of the aims of which was to build the first computer corpus of British English, modelled on the Brown Corpus of American English which had recently been completed at Brown University, in the USA. This eventually led to the completion of the LOB (Lancaster-Oslo/Bergen) Corpus, with the help of Stig Johansson (Professor of English Language at Oslo) and two Norwegian Universities. To convince copyright-holders to give free permission for the use of 500 text samples in the corpus, it was decided that an international organization, based outside the UK, would stand more chance of success than the rather small and obscure British university of Lancaster, as it was at that time. Ultimately this plan succeeded, and CAMET became ICAME. The conference in May 2009 contained an opening 'event' and a small exhibition entitled 'The coming of ICAME', in which the founding and the history of the association were celebrated. Apart from Geoffrey Leech, two other founding fathers of ICAME participated: Stig Johansson (Oslo) and Jan Svartvik (Lund). The chief organizer of the conference was Sebastian Hoffmann, who has now moved from Lancaster to a chair at the University of Trier in Germany.

Other Interests and Hobbies

Playing the piano (especially in chamber music groups) and the church organ. Singing in choirs. Fell-walking (the fells have to be small ones these days!).

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