Dr. Ellen Prince, professor emerita of linguistics, died of cancer on October 24, 2010, at her home in Philadelphia. She was 66.
Born in Brooklyn in 1944, Dr. Prince earned a BA (1964) and MA (1967) in French from Brooklyn College. She did graduate work in linguistics at NYU before earning a PhD from Penn in 1974.
She joined the faculty of the Penn Linguistics Department as an associate professor that same year. She was promoted to full professor in 1987 and served as chair of the department from 1993 to 1997. Dr. Prince also held a secondary appointment in the department of computer and information science. She retired and was accorded emeritus status in 2005.
She was a visiting professor at many universities in the US and abroad, including the University of Amsterdam, Charles University in Prague and Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Throughout her career at Penn, Dr. Prince served on over 20 committees and supervised many doctoral dissertations.
Dr. Prince was also active in the affairs of the Linguistic Society of America, serving on the executive committee and in many other capacities. Among her many honors were the Presidency of the Linguistic Society of America in 2008 and election to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
A pioneer in linguistic pragmatics, Dr. Prince worked on her own and with many colleagues and students on various aspects of the subject. Several of her incisive and tightly argued papers became classics in the field. She is perhaps best known for her typology of information statuses in discourse, based on the study of naturally-occurring data; she also devoted major efforts to the study of the pragmatic functions of syntactic constructions, including the various species of cleft and left-periphery constructions, including topicalization and left-dislocation. She had a particular interest in Yiddish and used her knowledge of that language to do groundbreaking work on the cross-linguistic comparison of the pragmatic functions of syntactic constructions. In later years, she continued her work on the referential status of noun phrases in the framework of centering theory, as developed by colleagues Aravind Joshi, Scott Weinstein and Barbara Grosz.
She is survived by her husband, Gerald Prince, professor of Romance languages in SAS.