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CONTACT: Elaine Ray, News Service (650) 723-7162

Memorial celebration for linguist Robert Politzer planned

A memorial tribute to Robert L. Politzer, professor emeritus of education and Romance linguistics, will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22, on the ground floor of the Center for Educational Research at Stanford. Politzer, 76, died Jan. 26 at his campus home after a long battle with cancer.

An internationally renowned linguist, scholar and teacher, Politzer served on the faculty from 1963 to 1986. He is remembered as a dedicated mentor who advised more than 200 graduate students earning degrees in applied linguistics and language education.

Politzer was born in Vienna on March 21, 1921, and immigrated to the United States with his brother, Henry, in 1938. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from Washington University in St. Louis. When the United States entered World War II, Politzer returned to Europe with the U.S. Army and served with military intelligence to help defeat Nazi Germany.

After the war, Politzer completed his doctorate in linguistics at Columbia University, where he met his future wife, Frieda. In 1950, he earned a doctor of social sciences degree from New York's New School for Social Research.

Politzer taught at Harvard University and the University of Michigan before joining Stanford's faculty. He published several books, including Foreign Language Learning, Reading French Fluently, Reading German Fluently, Speaking German, and Three-Two-One, a collection of readings in French literature.

Colleague and fellow linguist John Baugh described Politzer as a "kind and gracious scholar" who produced very careful research and was strongly supportive of students regardless of background. "Professor Politzer did more to support African American and minority graduate students than almost any other faculty member who preceded him," said Baugh, who recalled that the first article he ever worked on in historical linguistics was inspired by Politzer's research. He added that one of Politzer's major contributions was his work in developing culturally sensitive standardized tests that took into account linguistic diversity.

Kenji Hakuta, also a professor in the School of Education, praised Politzer's research as well as his commitment to students. "He has trained and worked with more doctoral students in the area of bilingual education and English as a second language than almost any scholar in this field. His ability to spread his commitment to two of the major issues ­ language minority students and the education of students in a foreign language ­ showed his depth, breadth, scholarship and vision," Hakuta said.

In addition to Frieda, who also is a distinguished linguist and teacher, Politzer is survived by their four sons, Stephan, David, Theodore and Thomas, and three granddaughters.

Contributions in his memory may be made to the Stanford University School of Education Fellowship Fund.


By Elaine Ray

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