Sunday, January 6, 2013

On Leo van Lier

I have been thinking about writing about this but I could not bring myself to writing this post for some time, as if me writing about the loss will make the loss real. I guess I have to get over my denial phase of grief. We lost Leo van Lier in December. There, I finally said it but the emptiness left by his departure does not really go anywhere. When I heard about the news, I felt like I lost a friend. In objective reality I have never met van Lier, but he was a kindred mind for me nevertheless. Since the first year of my graduate studies, van Lier has always been a source of inspiration and stimulation for me. More recently, he was instrumental in my interest in ecology of language and learning.
Once I had emailed him about a question I had, which I don't remember what it was about now, and he had kindly responded. I remember how delighted I was for having something like a short conversation with him. I also remember when I was reading and writing on the theory wars in SLA --a topic of my masters thesis-- and how van Lier was the one that I felt closest to. That intellectual affiliation and common stance meant a lot to me. That connection, however virtual, made the difference between feeling part of and feeling a part. It's quite interesting that I shared some of van Lier's experience vicariously. Because of this felt affiliation, when some scholars in SLA denied him the right to speak in the 1990s, I was denied too in some sense though much later than the actual event. When I presented with my advisor at SSLW on my master's thesis experience I mentioned van Lier. It's quite fascinating how some people have such a huge impact on us even if we have very limited two-way interaction or even if one party is totally oblivious to the impact they have on the other. For some reason this reminds me of the movie It's a Wonderful Life, I guess it is especially fitting because of the timing of van Lier's departure. I'm afraid I failed to write a coherent narrative all I can say is I will miss him. Rest in peace Leo van Lier.   

PS. See also this and this

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