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October 13, 2016

Obituary: Christina Bratt Paulston

Christina Bratt Paulston, director of the English Language Institute (ELI) 1969-98 and chair of the Department of Linguistics 1975-89, died Sept. 23, 2016. She was 83.

Born in Sweden on Dec. 30, 1932, Bratt Paulston earned her doctorate in applied linguistics in 1966 from Teachers’ College at Columbia University, following a BA from Carleton College in 1953 and an MA from the University of Minnesota in 1955.

She joined the University as a linguistics faculty member in 1969 after teaching in her native country as well as Morocco, Peru and India.

Dorolyn Smith, associate director of ELI today, met Bratt Paulston when Smith was a linguistics graduate student here.

“She really molded the ELI in some ways, and the department,” Smith recalls. “She was very influential in the profession of teaching English as a second language.”

Smith points to a book Bratt Paulston co-authored on how to adapt foreign-language teaching methods to English as a second language (ESL) instruction.

Previously, non-English-speaking students learning English had been taught to read literature in the new tongue. Bratt Paulston instead emphasized the audio-lingual method — learning to hear and speak in conversation with the teacher and fellow students.

“It was really a departure from what had been done in the past,” Smith says. “At the time it was revolutionary to do this for ESL.”

Bratt Paulston also emphasized a concept from sociolinguistics, Smith notes — learning to communicate in a meaningful way instead of drilling to memorize grammar patterns.

“She was a force of nature,” Smith also recalls. “She had a very strong personality. When she wanted something, she was not shy about going to the dean … and saying, “Look, this is what we need.’”

Bratt Paulston also served on a number of University committees and in the University Senate.

She was part of the Linguistic Society of America’s Committee on Linguistics and the Public Interest, president of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages and a trustee of the Center of Applied Linguistics.

Her research covered everything from language maintenance to the shift in language following immigration and colonialism.

She continued her work past retirement as professor emerita of linguistics, contributing scholarly articles and editing volumes with students and colleagues.

Smith continued to visit Bratt Paulston in her retirement.

“She never lost her memory,” Smith says, “and she never lost her spark.”

Bratt Paulston is survived by sons Christopher and Ian and their families, and was predeceased by her husband, Rolland G. Paulston, a School of Education faculty member.

A remembrance and celebration of Bratt Paulston’s contributions to Pitt and to linguistics will be held in Heinz Chapel at 3 p.m. Dec. 13 (St. Lucia’s Day in Sweden), followed by a reception.

—Marty Levine 

Filed under: Feature,Volume 49 Issue 4

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