Hans Basbøll#

Short laudatio by Ernst Håkon Jahr#

The focus of Professor Hans Basbøll’s research during the years has been Sound structure and its relation to grammatical structure, i.e. the organization of speech sounds into larger units like syllables and phrases, and the interaction between principles of sound (phonology and phonetics) and principles of grammar (syntax and morphology, covering sentences and words). He has developed original general models for the description (e.g. the Sonority Syllable Model, and applied it to specific languages, in minute detail to Modern Danish (The Phonology of Danish, OUP 2005, the best phonology of a language we know of, cf. T. Riad’s detailed review in Nordic Journal of Linguistics 30.1, l29~l46, 2007), but also to other Scandinavian languages, to German, and to French and Italian, and to language history.

He has emphasized the empirical aspects and made experiments to test the proposals (in particular together with the leading Danish phonetician Nina Grennum). He has also specialised in language acquisition (he has directed three large and pioneering research projects in that area) and done collective work, both with Scandinavian teams and with international teams.

Professor Basbøll has participated in the development of Danish research strategies, notably within neuroscience and computational linguistics. He has given overviews of phonological theory in influential international contexts, and he has been and is active in several international, in particular European, scientific collaborations.

One crucial area in Professor Basbøll’s research has been phonotactics. He has, as already mentioned, developed a highly original model of sonority, The Sonority Syllable Model, where he derives the general properties of order relations in the syllable (such as the order obstruents — sonorant consonants (like nasals and laterals) — approximants and glides — vowels, and the mirror image order in the final part) from the universal logic of segment types (such as: all sonorants are voiced, but not all voiced segments are sonorants - as shown by the existence of non-sonorants = obstruents that are voiced, e.g. French b d g). All other models of sonority either simply depart from observed phonotactic patterns, and are thus not independently motivated (sometimes even circular), or are based upon mere stipulations of "innateness".

Another central area of professor Basbøll’s research is the relation between prosodic structures (stud/word tones, stress, intonation) and the grammatical structures which interact with them. He has developed a detailed model of word structure which accounts for many hitherto unexplained phonological patterns. The grammatical distribution of the Danish strad has been an enigma, and some of the greatest Danish linguists after Rasmus Rask have tried to attack the stød (including Karl Verner, Holger Pedersen, Otto Jespersen and Louis Hjelmslev). Hans Basbøll has probably come closer to solving this (”grammatical") stød problem than scholars before him.

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