Charles J. Fillmore, one of the world’s greatest linguists — ever — died last Thursday, February 13, at the age of 84 in San Francisco. He was the discoverer of frame semantics, who did the essential research on the nature of framing in thought and language. He discovered that we think, largely unconsciously, in terms of conceptual frames — mental structures that organize our thought. Further, he found that every word is mentally defined in terms of frame structures. Our current understanding of “framing” in social and political discourse derives ultimately from his research, whose importance stretches well beyond linguistics to social and political thought — and all of intellectual life. The world has lost a scholar of the greatest significance.
“Chuck,” as he was known throughout the linguistics world, got his PhD from the University of Michigan in 1961 and taught at Ohio State University until 1971, when he came to the University of California at Berkeley. Chuck’s wife of 40 years, Lily Wong Fillmore, put herself through college and then through graduate school at Stanford, winding up as Professor of Education at Berkeley. She was his constant companion, sounding board, alter ego, the greatest cheer in his life, and much more. Continue reading