Axiomatic Functionalists

This section contains short biographies of the founders of AF, Jan Mulder and Sándor Hervey, and of several other linguists who are currectly active in AF. Naturally, there are many other people who worked along the lines of this approach and one can get of list of their names and publications in the Bibliography of Axiomatic Functionalism. Mulder's and Hervey's biography was compiled by Aleš Bičan on the basis of other biographies of theirs. Lamb's one was written by James Dickins. The rest are autobiographies.

Jan W. F. Mulder

(1919-2012). The founder of Axiomatic Functionalism. Born in The Netherlands, he matriculated at the University of Djakarta, Indonesia, in 1949 where studied sinology. On his return to the Netherlands in 1951, he continued his studies at the University of Leiden working toward a doctorate. There he acquinted himself with teachings of E. M. Uhlenbeck and became a member of The Leiden Linguistic Circle. He also spent some time in Paris where he was introduced to functional theories of André Martinet who had a great impact on him. After finishing his studies at Leiden, he moved in 1961 to Oxford to get to the post of Senior Librarian at the Oriental Institute. Finding that his preceding degrees were not recognized here, he started working on a doctoral thesis, under the supervision of David Hawkes, Professor of Chinese. The thesis was completed in 1966 and published two years later as Sets and Relations in Phonology. Mulder lays out here a formalized theory of functional phonology and applies it to Pekingese Chinese. The theory later became known as Axiomatic Functionalism. In 1968 he was appointed a post at the University of St. Andrews with a change to establish a whole department of linguistics. He stayed there until his retirement in 1984, joined by Sándor Hervey in 1969 whose doctoral thesis on semantics he supervised. In cooperation with Hervey and supported by many insightful students Mulder further developed his theories applying it on various linguistic problems and languages. He wrote many articles, sevaral with Hervey with whom he also wrote two books, Theory of Linguistic Sign (1972) and The Strategy of Linguistics (1980). Since his studies in Paris Mulder kept close ties with André Martinet and became an active member of Société Internationale de Linguistique Fonctionnelle (SILF), later even its president. He also participated in annual colloquia held by this society. After his retirment in 1984 he spent some time teaching in the Far East and Germany, also working on the major work on AF, Foundations of Axiomatic Linguistics (1989). Mulder was very active and published many articles as late as 2004. He died at the beginning of 2012.

A biography by Sándor G. J. Hervey can be found in The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (1st edt., 1994) and one by Robin Thelwall in Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics (2nd edt., 2006). Both are available in the section AF papers.

Sándor G. J. Hervey

(1942-1997). The closest cooperator of Mulder's, he further developed and enriched AF. Born in Hungary, Hervey moved to Britain with his family in 1956 and was educated at Salesian College, Cowley, and then at New College, Oxford, where he studied Chinese in 1960s. It is at this time that he met Mulder to whose ideas he was attracted and under whose supervision he worked on a doctoral thesis on semantics with application on Pekingese Chinese. The thesis was finished in 1970 and eventually published in 1979 as Axiomatic semantics – A theory of linguistic semantics. In this work Hervey lays out the theory of functional semantics which became a fully integrated part of the theory of Axiomatic Functionalism. After a year in the Far East he joined Mulder at the University of St. Andrews and cooperated with him. The cooperations resulted in several joinly written articles and books. Hervey also wrote a number of articles of his own developing further the theory and methodology of AF and applying it in descriptions. In addition to semantics, he was also interested in general semiotics and wrote a book on this topic, Semiotic Perspectives (1982). When the Department of Linguistics at St. Andrews was closed in 1983 he retrained for a new post and eventually became interested in translation and translation theory. With Ian Higgins he prepared a series of courses and later also a series of books called Thinking Translation. He was active, publishing and teaching at Britain and abroad until his premature death in 1997.

A obituary by Mortéza Mahmoudian can be found in La Linguistique 33 (1997), one by Jan W. F. Mulder in Actes du 22e colloque intenational de linguistique fonctionnelle (2004). Both are available in the section AF papers. Another was written by Ian Higgins in 1997, published in University of St. Andrews Newsletter.

Michael A. L. Lamb

Michael Lamb took a BA in Chinese and Japanese at the University of Oxford, where he was first introduced to AF, becoming a personal friend of Jan Mulder and Sándor Hervey. He was subsequently appointed to the post of Lecturer in Linguistics at the New University of Ulster (later the University of Ulster). Michael Lamb is a polyglot, with virtual native-speaker competence in Japanese and Chinese, a deep knowledge of many of the languages of Europe, and a working understanding of languages as varied as Arabic, Tibetan and Quechua. Drawing partly on his own knowledge of this range of languages, Lamb came increasingly to believe during the 1970s that the content-related aspects of AF ontology were inadequate, and that the semantics needed to be more fully integrated into the systemology. During the 1980s, Lamb developed his ideas further, presenting them in lectures and personal discussions with students at the (New) University of Ulster, including James Dickins and Barry Heselwood. His complete theory of extended AF was first presented in written form in doctoral theses of these two linguists. Dickins’ and Heselwood’s subsequent work largely employs, either formally or informally, extended axiomatic-functionalist theory. Michael Lamb retired from the University of Ulster a number of years ago, but continues to live in Northern Ireland.

Paul Rastall

(1951-). Paul Rastall studied at Merton College, Oxford (BA, 1973) and at St. Andrews University (PhD, 1984) under the direction of Jan Mulder and Sándor Hervey. His PhD thesis is “Linguistic Meta-theory: the formal and empirical conditions of acceptability of linguistic theories and descriptions”. He taught English Language, Linguistics, Semiotics, and Translation and has worked in the United Kingdom (Universities of St. Andrews, Sunderland, Heriot-Watt (secondment), Portsmouth), France, Sweden, Sudan, Brunei, and Japan. He has been a Visiting Fellow at City University Community College, Hong Kong, and holds a Visiting Professorship at Beijing Normal University. He has visited numerous Chinese universities to lecture and develop partnership cooperation. -- Paul Rastall has numerous publications in several international journals. He has published the following books: Empirical Phonology and Cartesian Tables (Mellen, 1993), A Functional View of English Grammar (Mellen, 1995), A Linguistic Philosophy of Language (Mellen, 2000), The Power of Speech (Lincom, 2006), and with Jan Mulder Ontological Questions in Linguistics (Lincom, 2005). His main research interests are in the theoretical and epistemological foundations of functionalist approaches to language and in applications of linguistic ideas to English.

James Dickins

(1957- ). Currently Professor of Arabic at the University of Leeds, James Dickins was a doctoral research student of Michael Lamb at the University of Ulster in the 1980s. He drew up the first set of postulates for Lamb’s extended axiomatic functionalism in his PhD thesis, Extended Axiomatic Functionalism: a Contrastive Assessment with Application to Arabic (1990). He subsequently wrote Extended Axiomatic Linguistics (1998), the first published general account of the theory, which includes a revised version of the postulates[*]. Dickins’ more recent works within axiomatic functionalism include Sudanese Arabic: Phonematics and Syllable Structure (2007). His interest in Sudanese Arabic dates back many years. He has produced an online Sudanese-Arabic dictionary, which is available from his webpage, and is being progressively expanded. He is currently working on a book entitled Sudanese Arabic: Syntax. He has also written a number of works on translation, including Thinking Arabic Translation (2002) with Sándor Hervey and Ian Higgins.

[*] For the current version of the postulates see Section Postulates.


Barry Heselwood

(1953-). Barry Heselwood first encountered linguistics when studying English Literature at the New University of Ulster in the early 1970s. He switched to a joint honours programme so he could do more linguistics, including courses taught by Michael Lamb through whom he became interested in AF. He returned in 1985 to work on his doctoral thesis under Michael Lamb’s supervision, taking up a post in 1990 at Leeds Polytechnic (now Leeds Metropolitan University) teaching phonetics and phonology to speech and language therapy students. In 2000 he moved to the Department of Linguistics & Phonetics at the University of Leeds but maintains a fascination and a research interest in disordered speech alongside the phonetics of Arabic and English phonetics and phonology. He has published articles on aspects of AF in La Linguistique (1995 and 1997) and in Linguistica ONLINE (2008). Recently he has been working on trying to bring the concepts and ideas of AF to wider notice with two publications on English phonotactics in the Transactions of the Philological Society (2007 and 2009).

homepage at Leeds
personal webpage

Aleš Bičan

(1981-). During his M.A. studies of general linguistics at the Masaryk University, Czech Republic, Aleš Bičan became interested in functionalism of Nikolai S. Trubetzkoy and André Martinet and was subsequently appealed by AF for its rigor, clear methodology and effectiveness in description. As a PhD student he worked up descriptions of phonematics and phonotactics of Czech based on AF. A member of the Department of Linguistics and Baltic Studies (Masaryk University), he gives courses on phonetics and functional phonology. Also a member of the Department of Etymology of the Institute of the Czech Language, Czech Academy of Sciences. He has published several papers in international journals and the book Axiomatic Functionalism: Theory and Application (with Paul Rastall, 2011). He also edits the electronic journal in Linguistica ONLINE, where several AF-orinted papers were republished or published for the first time. He maintains these web pages.