January 29, 2016, by Stephen McKibbin
Are you a friend of Ron Carter?
I am eating delicious but unidentifiable sashimi, and looking out at the inside of the dormant caldera of a volcano. There is grass growing on the cold lava rock, and it feels like I am on top of a Bond villain’s lair. This is Kyushu, in Japan, and I’m here representing the university, a million miles from the UK campus. A stranger comes up to me, and asks where I’m from: Nottingham. ‘Oh’, he says in recognition, ‘you must be a friend of Ron Carter’. Yes. ‘Nottingham is very famous for literary linguistics’, he says. Yes it is.
A version of this conversation has been played out just about everywhere I have been in the world. And it is true: beyond the business of UK education politics, the parochial research assessment exercises, the weekly grappling with timetables and admin, it is easy to forget that there is a legacy of intellectual innovation in the Nottingham School for which we are responsible. English at Nottingham became famous around the world from the 1960s onwards for its integration of the study of language and literature. We remain celebrated for our inclusion of medieval, linguistic, dramatic, creative, and literary scholarship. At the core of this since the 1970s, Nottingham has become known as the world’s centre for stylistics, with many of the world’s leading literary linguists associated with the department. The names from the past include Walter Grauberg, Ronald Hartmann, Margaret Berry, Chris Butler, Vimala Herman, Bill Nash, who died only very recently, and especially Ron Carter.
Ron Carter transformed the way language was taught in British schools, and went on to influence the language and literature classrooms of the world. Over the last two decades of the last century, he established a set of scholars at Nottingham whose work and ethos became internationally essential. The literary linguistic work of the Nottingham School spread out across the globe like ripples affecting every level of education. Carter, in fact, has been affectionately described as the Milo Minderbender of linguistics – after the character in Catch-22 whose syndicate controls all aspects of the world. Wherever you went in the world, there was evidence of the hand of Ron Carter. Those of us currently working here are mindful of our responsibility in ensuring this ethos continues.
This week, Ron Carter returned to the School to give the first talk in the Literary Linguistics Research Seminar series. Though retired now, he continues to present new thinking where language study and literature meet. If you have ever learned some modern linguistics and used it to understand a literary work or reading with greater richness, subtlety or complexity, you are essentially a literary linguist. If you are studying English at Nottingham, and whether you know it or not, you too are part of this legacy. And in the future, at any point in your life, anywhere in the world, even inside the sulphurous steam of a dormant volcano, if anyone ever asks whether you are a friend of Ron Carter – yes you are.