Who was Pit Corder and why does he deserve a blue plaque?
Stephen Pit Corder (1918-1990), known as Pit, 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.
Dr Duncan Marks, Civic Society Manager, remarked: “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.”
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.”
Uncovering Corder’s links to York
Students on the MA TESOL/Applied Linguistics at York St John University uncovered key information about Stephen Pit Corder’s life in York. Their project has now resulted in a successful application to York Civic Trust to place a blue plaque at 4 Bootham Crescent.
Pit 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).
The students also updated Pit Corder’s Wikipedia page with their findings and translated it into Chinese and Thai.
The unveiling took place on Thursday 24 February at Corder’s childhood home, now Hedley House Hotel & Yoga Studio, 3-6 Bootham Terrace.
The unveiling was made by Professor Zhu Hua, as current Chair of the British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL).