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Pioneering linguist honoured with blue plaque after a successful campaign by York St John University students

Published: 11 February 2022

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a woman standing in front of a door, next to a plaque

Former student attends official unveiling of Pit Corder blue plaque

Students on the MA TESOL and Applied Linguistics course were working on an assessed project on the work of Stephen Pit Corder, the first Chair of the British Association of Applied Linguistics, when they uncovered key information about his life in York.  As part of the project, the students decided to write an application to York Civic Trust for a blue plaque at his birthplace in York. Following a successful process, a plaque for Pit Corder was unveiled at Hedley House on Bootham Terrace on Thursday 24 February 2022. 

Known as Pit, he was born in York at 4 Bootham Terrace to a Quaker family and educated at Bootham School where his father was a master. His mother was Dutch so he acquired a second language from birth. Corder attended Merton College Oxford in 1936 where he took a degree in Modern Languages (French and German). 

Why does Corder deserve a blue plaque?  

Pit Corder was a founding figure in the then new field of applied linguistics (the branch of linguistics concerned with practical applications of language studies - for example teaching, translation, and speech therapy). He is considered one of the most influential applied linguists of the 20th century and has inspired generations of language teachers and researchers through his innovations in the field of practical research into second-language acquisition and teaching. His ideas have become the framework on which many later linguists have built new theories and approaches.  

The publication of his first book in 1960, An Intermediate English Practice Book, gained him widespread recognition among teachers of English as a foreign language around the world. In 1964 Corder became Director of the School of Applied Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh in 1964. Applied linguistics was only just emerging as a distinct discipline in its own right at this time. Distinguished by its pragmatic nature, it aims to solve real world problems, and has an underlying emphasis on matters of social justice. In this way it is likely that Corder may have been influenced by his Quaker roots. 

Read more about Pit Corder on his Wikipedia page (updated and translated by York St John students) 

York as the home of Applied Linguistics

Grace Jagger, one of the York St John students who researched Pit Corder’s links to York said: “Not only was he a trailblazer for UK Applied Linguistics but he carried out his work, through the British Council, across the globe. We were able to discover many links from Corder family members to Bootham School and so it feels fitting that the Corder name will be commemorated in the area. To find out that the plaque will finally be unveiled is so exciting! Years have now passed since we first sat and talked about our project, it’s a lovely feeling to have succeeded as a group.” 

Doria Ruhl also worked on the project while studying for her MA. She said: “I feel proud to have been involved in such a significant project for the University as well as the city of York, and thankful for the opportunity. It was fun working collaboratively and pouring our energy into something so meaningful and permanent. It is a nice feeling to be forever connected to York in this way even though I live quite far away.”

Professor Helen Sauntson, Director of York St John University’s Centre for Language and Social Justice Research said: “We’re delighted to have played a part in York’s recognition of Pit Corder and proud that the diligent work of our students has led to this point. This further cements the position of York as the ‘home’ of applied linguistics. Pit Corder was a Quaker and used his training in linguistics to ask challenging questions that are consistent with the history and mission of York St John University and its work for social justice.” 

Dr Duncan Marks, Civic Society Manager at York Civic Trust said: “Pit Corder might not be a ‘household name’ to most of us, but his professional achievement as a founding father of Applied Linguistics speaks for itself. 

“Applied Linguistics – an interdisciplinary focus that seeks out solutions to real-life, language-related problems – is today influential the world over, with an impact in everything from translating, forensics, and second-language teaching and learning. That a man such as Pit Corder made use of his York Quaker faith, based on introspection and the importance of language, and from it emerged at the centre of such a profoundly global way of learning and communicating, is truly humbling. As a city, we should be rightly proud.”   

Professor Zhu Hua FAcSS, BAAL Chair said: “As the founding Chair of the British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL), S. Pit Corder played an instrumental role in the development of applied linguistics as an interdisciplinary field in the UK. His vision has come to fruition 50 years on. We are now an international community of more than 1,400 members working in diverse contexts, united in our conviction of the importance of language in individuals’ lives and society.   

“BAAL remembers him with the Pit Corder Lecture at its annual conference. We are delighted that York Civic Trust and York St John University worked together to celebrate his association with York with this blue plaque.”  

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