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Linguistics Program

Simon Belasco in Memoriam

Simon Belasco
1918 - 1999

Simon Belasco

Professor Emeritus of French and Linguistics
University of South Carolina and Pennsylvania State University

Graveside services for Simon Belasco, professor emeritus of French and Linguistics at the University of South Carolina and Pennsylvania State University, will be held at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, November 14, 1999 at Hebrew Benevolent Society Cemetery.  Visitation will immediately follow at the home.  Memorials may be made to the Hardee-Belasco Scholarship Fund, Department of French and Classics, U.S.C., Columbia, SC  29208 or to Palmetto Health Hospice, c/o Palmetto Baptist Foundation, P.O. Box 11304, Columbia, SC  29211 

Professor Belasco died Wednesday, November 10, 1999.  Born in Philadelphia, Penn., he was a son of the late Albert and Sarah Belasco.  After graduating from Temple University, he served as an interpreter for the French Naval Mission during World War II before serving as a Captain in the U.S. Army.  He then received his Ph.D. in French from the University of Pennsylvania.  Professor Belasco's long and distinguished teaching career was spent chiefly at Pennsylvania State University and, more recently, at U.S.C., where his 20 years of service included a two year term as Chairman of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature.  A renowned and widely published scholar in the fields of linguistics and second language acquisition, he was honored as teacher of the year by the Pennsylvania Modern Language Association and was decorated by the French government for outstanding contributions to French culture.  His specialty was the Occitan language of southern France. 

Surviving are his wife, Cathie Freibert; sons, Larry Belasco of Ft. Collins, Colo., David Belasco of Bardonia, N.Y.; daughter Allyson Belasco of Boca Raton, Fla.; five grandchildren. 

-- Obituary notice from The State (Columbia, SC), 11/12/99

To the Linguist List, 

I am sad to report that Professor Simon Belasco passed away on Wednesday, November 10, 1999. 

The above obituary was printed in "The State" newspaper (Columbia, SC) this morning (November 12, 1999).  Through his career as a scholar of French and Linguistics, Si Belasco touched many lives, and the Linguistics Program at USC would like to collect the recollections of his students, colleagues, and friends in order to honor his memory.  If you would like to respond to this obituary notice, please send your message to  We will be posting these on a website dedicated to Si's memory.  If you would further like to make a memorial donation, either to the Hardee-Belasco Scholarship Fund or to the Palmetto Health Hospice, information is contained in the obituary notice below. 

-- Stanley Dubinsky, Professor of English and Linguistics, UofSC

Simon Belasco is my teacher; I shall not pass;
He maketh me to lie down in strange syntax;
He restoreth my stress.
He leadeth me in the paths of phonology for
   my brain's sake. (ache)
Yea, though I walk through the valley of
   the shadow of morphemics,
I will fear no intonation; for he is with me;
His allomorphs and allophones, they comfort me.
He preparest a pattern drill before me in the
   presence of mine enemies;
He anointest my head with graphemics.
My cup runneth over!
Surely, phones and morphs shall follow me
   all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the Pan American
   House forever.

--  Owed to Linguistics by Rosalie Nelson (c. 1965?)

When I was an undergraduate at Penn State in the mid 1970's, I had my first phonology class from Si Belasco. He had a very flamboyant teaching style that was very effective in keeping the students' attention. He was passionate about phonology, and would get very deeply into his lectures. On occasion, he'd have trouble extracting himself from the lecture at the end of the class period.

Once, he kept going at the end of the class. We all stayed for five extra minutes (as we commonly did). But some people had other classes, and so they began to leave. Si kept right on lecturing. He distractedly looked at them as they left, but it didn't really register. I stayed for the full 20 minute interval between periods, then hurried off to be late to my next class. Later that day, I heard that the instructor for the next class (a T.A.) came in and sat down by the door, as did a few students from the next class, but they were too meek to say anything. Twenty minutes into the next class period, someone told Si that the class was supposed to have  ended 40 minutes earlier. 

Si told us never to let him do that again. 

I haven't seen Si for the last 22 years. But it's sad to hear that his passion has gone out of the world now. 

-- Joe Stemberger, University of Minnesota 

Last year I took an honors college French class under Prof. Belasco.  He truly was an inspiration to myself and all of his students.  He always made it a priority to personally know every student and treat us with the respect that we deserve.  Of all the professors I have had at USC he is in that special group of whom I will always remember for the impact that they left upon my life and my education.  Every professor at USC should take notes as to his character and sincere devotion and love for teaching.  My sympathy and prayers go out to his family, friends, and all of those students who in some way have been touched by the incredible life of Professor Belasco. 


Bruce Lawrence 
1835 Greene St. 
Columbia, SC 29201 

I graduated from USC May 1987 with a BA in English Composition and a concentration Foreign Languages (45+ credits in French, Spanish, Russian, Italian, and Hebrew).  For what it's worth, I chose USC for its large offering of foreign languages, took advantage of it, and had a wonderful time and learning experience with virtually every professor in that department.  Fausto & Tonino, David Danow, Mark the Hebrew teacher (forget his last name!), and others were  wonderful. 

I only had the pleasure of meeting Prof. Belasco on one occasion, I was having a real problem with my Spanish teacher and went to speak to him about it.  He was wonderful, first, for the subject at hand (the situation improved in the next class session).  But the visit was also wonderful because he asked me questions, told me some things about his life and what he'd learned... this was over 10 years ago, but I remember that at the time his advice and conversation had a great impact on me.  I remember him as vibrant and kind, interesting and interested. 

Prof. Belasco clearly meant a lot to you, I send you my condolences.  A life well lived is a joy to him and the others around him, and leaves its mark. 

 :)  Lisa 

Lisa A. Porter ( 
5203 Leesburg Pike, Suite 1200 
Falls Church, VA 22114 

I wanted to write to Si while he was still alive, and never got it done. For that, I feel terribly sad. I wanted to thank him for all that he gave me and my fellow grad students. Si recruited me to the PSU linguistics program from a French graduate grammar course, and when I started the program I didn't even know what linguistics was. So he taught me that, and lots about phonology, and lots about life. I once asked his advice about whether he thought I could really accomplish some adventure I was contemplating, and he said, with that sly grin of his, looking me right in the eye, "McCardle, you can do anything you put your mind to." And he made me believe it. And I did go off and have adventures. Now I am in a way coming back to linguistics, as a research administrator in charge of grants that will fund studies on bilingualism. I wish I could have told him that, for I think he'd have been proud. I will always remember his classroom antics, how boisterous and crazy he got when trying hard to get his points across to us, sending us to the board like high school students --- and how much and how well we learned from him. Si Belasco was a mentor who set me on a path I have loved... thanks, 

Si, wherever you are now...

Peggy McCardle, Ph.D. in linguistics! 
Associate Chief, Child Development and Behavior Branch, 
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development 

Last night I tried to call Gerry Brault.  He was not home. I'll try again today. 
Gerry Brault is retired now.  He was Head of our department when Si came to Penn State. He knew him well. 
I first met Si at a Lingusitic Institute at Indiana University. It was in 1963 I think.  I was a graduate student.  He was a very kind man. 

Thank you for doing all this for Si Belasco. 

Penn State Abington 

Simon Belasco was my first advisor and teacher in linguistics at pennsylvania state university when I came as a grad student. He had a wildly infectious enthusiasm for investigation and no solution or theory was too bizarre for serious consideration (in fact, sometimes, the more  bizarre the more intriguing to Si).  He was always encouraging and helpful. he took student comments seriously and never ridiculed or belittled feeble, beginning attempts.  He was not insecure in his field and so would suggest others who  might  have a better or more ready answer to research questions. 
Thank you Si for your encouragement and enthusiasm. 


Dr. Paul W. Kilpatrick 
Geneva College 
Beaver Falls, PA 15010 USA 

There are two times, among so many others, that stand out. The first was when, as department chair, it fell on me to tell Si that, because of federal law, he had to retire. Of all the crazy things I had to do to satisfy the bureaucracy, this was probably the craziest. He took it surprisingly well, though with considerable invective. 

The other time was when I shared a room with him at the MLA convention in Houston in the early 1980s. I was working on Pascal's use of language then, and on the Port?Royal Logic and Grammar that homsky was fond of writing about, so we had plenty to talk about. We got deeper and deeper into linguistic theory, and it got later and later, until I finally said I had to get some sleep. When the alarm went off early the next morning, the first thing I heard was Si exclaiming "Holy shit" and then picking up the discussion right where we had left it the night before. He never missed a beat. 

Buford Norman, Professor 
Dept. of French and Classics 
University of South Carolina 
Columbia, SC 29208  USA 
Preferred email:  

I querried your colleague Kurt Goblirsch concerning a memorial volume for Si Bleasco. He suggested that I get in touch with you. Si helped me several years ago with a linguistic question I had while working on an Old Spanish poet. I sought his help because the word I was working with had its origins in Provenzal. He was quite enthusiastic and helpful with my study, though, not being a true linguist myself, I never mustered up the courage to complete it. When I heard of his passing, I pulled out the study to see where I had left off. I think I could make something out of it, and would like to, and was wondering if those working on the volume for Si would entertain taking a look at it. Not being sure what the process will be for putting together your volume, I figured I'd ask and see. Thanks! 

Chris Donahue 

Si Belasco was my first real friend here at the University of South Carolina.  We met shortly after I arrived in 1991, and I quickly found that Si was interested in, and had ideas about, just about every aspect of Linguistics.  His enthusiasm and boundless energy made you forget how long he had been in the profession (I think that it was two or three years before I realized that he was emeritus).  But, when he got to talking about his days at Penn, Zelig Harris, and that "kid" Chomsky, you realized that he was really a part of the foundations of the discipline. 

I never had a brief conversation with Si.  There was always more that we wanted to say.  If Si and I planned to go to lunch together, I quickly learned (after the first couple of times) to clear my schedule for the entire afternoon.  We would show up at the Basil Pot restaurant at around 12:30, and still be there at 3:30 as the staff were trying to clean up and close down.  And I can't count the times that Si would suddenly say, at 5 or 6 p.m., "I've got to call Cathy [his wife].  She was expecting me two hours ago."

In many ways, Si Belasco and I grew close because of the way that we reflected one another.  I think that we each saw a version of ourselves in the other--I saw in him a hoped-for future for myself, and I believe that he may have seen in me aspects of his own past.  I know that I would be mightily pleased to reach the age of 80, with as much vigour, enthusiasm, and zest for life as Si had in these last ten years.

Stan Dubinsky
Linguistics Program/English Department 
University of South Carolina

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you and tell you what a wonderful memorial this web site is. It brought tears to my eyes, and a couple of smiles as well.  I am so glad to see how much my dad was loved and respected by those who knew him.  My dad was the only man in my life who never said a harsh word to me, and who was always, always there for me.  I miss him more and more everyday. Thank you again for the time you took to make this website for my dear old dad.

The daughter of a very special man,
Allyson Belasco

Si Belasco was the Director of the Linguistics Program at Penn State when I arrived in 1973 as a recent Ph.D.  His welcome was warm, his enthusiasm for linguistics was boundless, his hopes for the future of the discipline at Penn State  were cheery and optimistic.   What a great place, I thought. And then he went to France for a sabbatical, and I discovered just how much linguistics at Penn State and Si Belasco were synonymous.  The program survived his sabbatical, of course, and when he returned, he was as invigorated, and invigorating, as ever.  His was a boundless energy, and he had a compulsive addiction to linguistics and everything it had to offer. For Si Belasco, linguistics wasn't just a discipline;  it was a way of life, a framework for living out each day,  recollecting the past, pursuing current ideas, predicting the future.   He was the consummate intellectual colleague, always working on something (which was usually French phonology, but with a general applicability which elevated it from ordinary description to theoretical application).  He absolutely LOVED new things that were coming out in linguistics:  functional grammar (Dik vs. Kuno), abstract phonology (syllables vs. segments), theoretical syntax and semantics ("Chumsky" vs. Ross/Lakoff/McCawley), sociolinguistics ("Is Labov really doing anything new?).  Always thinking, always challenging, always planning a new course of attack on some problem or other.   Si was a great role model for his junior colleagues.  He encouraged us, challenged us, competed with us, and in the end we were all better linguists for his pervasive influence.  He is still a legend at Penn State among the older crowd.  A French department colleague always said that when Belasco left,
linguistics left Penn State.   He was probably right.

Phil Baldi
Penn State University

I did not know Si Belasco because of his achievements in linguistics.  In fact, I cannot to this day understand what he did professionally.  I never
took a class with him, but he was my teacher nevertheless.  I knew Si because I spent countless vacation days with him - in France several times, skiing in Colorado, at our homes in Vermont and in Pa, at the NJ shore, in New York, on the outer banks of North Carolina, in Charleston for Spoleto.  When we got together it was for a couple weeks at a time and we had plenty of time to know each other.

He taught me how to play poker on rainy days in Dordogne.  We drove on long trips and never ran out of things to say.  With our wives we welcomed many a new year together - sometimes with song , once with fire, once without heat.  We laughed continuously.

He was a philosopher who put things in perspective.  I remember one day walking down Walnut St in Phila with him and he looked around and said - "all these people were not here 100 years ago and 100 years from now all these people will be gone."  Now he is gone - someday I will be gone.  Life goes on.

Si was a sponge for knowledge.  He was the only person I ever met who read books on electrical engineering (or some other highly technical subject) when he was on vacation.  He knew so much, it is hard for me to believe that so much knowledge, talent and wisdom can be lost in an instant.  You build up so much during your life and then it is all gone.

Si was ageless.  He was all ages at the same time.  Sometimes he was 8 years old getting into trouble in the old neighborhood in South Philly.  Then he was 15 going to the fights with his father.  Then he was 25 translating for the French Naval Mission at the Navy Yard before he entered the army.  Then it was July 1945 and he was about to invade Japan in the first wave but was saved by the A bomb.  He was my contemporary - a great friend who happened to be born the same year as my father.  It was not until the last few months of his life that I realized that Si also was 80 years old.

Si could relate to anyone.  He did not know from pretense.  He could always cause the most dour Frenchman to open up.  He treated my daughter like an adult when she was 11, and she spent countless hours discussing life's little things with him.  He was secure in who he was, and he accepted others for who they were.  He saw the good in everyone.  But most of all he saw the humor in it all.

The memories are good ones - laughing at the world while appreciating its complexity and its beauty.  I know that nothing lasts forever, but while its happening it seems that it will.  My remembrances of Si will last forever for me.

Robert J. Weinberg, Partner
Pepper Hamilton LLP

The last message I was to have from Si Belasco was an e-mail he had sent in response to one of mine.  In his crisp, always-to-the-point style, Si brought me right up to the moment in his life: he was eighty and couldn't believe it; he was still teaching and he would go nuts if he had to stop; and his kids were in this place and that, doing this thing and that.  Si and I had been in touch only sporadically over long periods of years.  While his personal circumstances had changed since my wife Irene and I first knew him, his e-mail letter was for me a visit with an authentic, unchanged Si Belasco.  For what came through was that this deeply learned, highly accomplished academic was still capable of the wonderment that was one of his most winning traits.  I had enduring memories of his excited, even physical, reactions to a new idea or an interesting phenomenon, and now here was Si once again: fully self-astonished that at eighty he was continuing to enjoy his life's work. 

Si and I became friends in 1953, his first year of teaching at Penn State and the beginning of my last one there as graduate student.  When he was presented as a new faculty member at the sometimes solemn ritual that described the pre-semester Romance Languages departmental meeting, I identified a fellow Philadelphian with whom I also had a Temple University undergraduate education in common.  Shortly after that meeting, I looked in on him in his office to introduce myself and to make the Temple connection.  I did so not unmindful that Si was after all a faculty member and that graduate assistants did not normally, as I perceived it then, approach faculty on personal terms.  If I had expected a conversation that would be driven by the difference in academic status, I could not have been more off the mark.  I was well met: Si was cordial and unassuming.  Although our chat was not quite that of two Philadelphians who discovered they had lived on the same block-we grew up in different sections of the city-, Si and I talked comfortably about our Temple experiences, about professors we had had, about people whose names rang the same bell for each of us.  Even so, I left Si's office more than a little surprised by his invitation for a social get-together.  And many warm get-togethers there were over the course of the year that followed, as well as a number of reunions when I was teaching elsewhere.

In the sense of the old Chinese curse, Si came into the department during interesting times.  Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House.  His brother Milton was president of Penn State.  Joseph McCarthy was roiling Congress and the rest of the country.  More immediately, the Department of Romance Languages was in a condition that resembled receivership.  The department head had been deposed, his tenure revoked, over a personal situation that was no one's business but his own, a matter that today would do well to elicit a yawn.  His replacement as head was a classics professor who was essentially untrusting of the temperament of anyone who taught a Romance language and its literature.

It was into these circumstances that Si introduced linguistics courses and a broadened point of view that enhanced the already well-established offering in Romance philology; and he initiated a program in foreign-language instruction that would give the graduate assistants a methodological basis for handling the department's service courses.  These things apart, Si brought to the departmental atmosphere a personal openness and freshness that I was not alone in appreciating.

In that last year as I was finishing up my doctorate, Si was for both my wife and me an off-campus valve that helped relieve the unease and uncertainty that I strongly felt and radiated, justified or not.  I had grown impatient with the academic process and become a rather prickly graduate student whose coming of professional age had been too long delayed by a depression and a war.  I would come away from our relaxing, diverting moments with Si and his family reassured that I could still hold my balance.

Even with very good friends the passing years have a way of imposing long silences.  Minimally, I kept abreast of Si by looking for him in professional as well as in Temple University alumni directories.  It will be a wrench not to find his name the next time the PMLA membership list comes in the mail. 

Irving P. Rothberg
Professor Emeritus
University of Massachusetts

I took Professor Belasco's French linguistics classes as a senior undergrad at Penn State in 1966 - 1967.  He opened my eyes to so many language possibilities!  I enjoyed going to the blackboard and diagramming sentences according to a set pattern.  He made learning such a joy! 

After graduating Penn State, I was one of 40 students form all over the country selected for a National Defense Education Act (NDEA) Institute in French at Orono Maine for the summer of 1967.  One of the courses was linguistics.  All courses were taught in French.  In the linguistics course a pre- and post-test was administered to each participant.  The day after the pre-test,  the linguistics teacher called me by name and said "Where is this person?"  I meekly raised my hand, not knowing why I was singled out.  He told me and the entire class that I had answered all the questions on the pre-test correctly and there was nothing for him to teach me!  He then inquired who was my linguistics professor.  When I answered Simon Belasco, he replied, "Well that's it, then. He's the best in the world!" 

I ended up having tutorials for the other students at the Institute who were confused.  I never forgot Professor Belasco, nor that his reputation was so wide-spread!  Simon touched so many of us in such special ways.  I hope his family is comforted by this outpouring of sweet memories

Ina Silikovitz Burwasser
Elkins Park, PA
Logistics Management Specialist
Naval Inventory Control Point - Philadelphia

(I was a high school French Teacher from 1967 to 1971)

I graduated from Penn State University in 1971 with a Major in Computer Science and a minor in Linguistics. Dr. Belasco was surely the most memorable professor from my years ar Penn State. He was always enthusiastic about his teaching and managed to get me very interested in Linguistics. Something that he was particularly good at was asking any student to repeat back 4 or 5 words that he would ask them to pronounce. He would then tell the student where he came from and be accurate to a radius of about 25 miles. This amazed me such that I still tell this story.
I credit Dr. Belasco with helping me to follow what provided me the most enjoyment in my schooling and career. He will be remembered by me as someone that gave himself fully to his students.

Dave Thomas, Penn State 1971
Vancouver, WA

May God Rest Your Soul In Peace, Si.

When I joined the Penn State  Linguistics Program back in early 1977, the first person I met was Simon
Belasco.From that time on he was my academic advisor.  Whenever I sought his advice ,academic or
otherwise,he was always there willing to help and advise.  I would always remember his words when I once
complained to him about the very long time I used to spend studying for my classes, "Listen,Lutfi. You
should ALSO FIND time for yourself.  There must be time for study and time for fun.  Try to strike a balance."  Yes, he was right.  I NEVER SAW HIM AGAIN ONCE he left Penn State.Still all of us ,his friends,students and colleagues,will miss him.

Lutfi Abulhaija
Director, Speech & Hearing Center
Yarmouk University


One day you are told a truth
That strikes you at a very reflective
And emotional level
That is how I felt.

I was visiting the Pennsylvania State University
And was informed
That Professor Simon Belasco
Had passed away

We can always only hope a mentor will live forever
But was still stricken that way
He was my graduate school
Mentor and advisor

Very much one can find
Ever I think
Only a very few professors
That actually care about students

Professor Belasco was one of them
As I think very much
How he ever found the time
And consideration for my case

Whenever today
I think of phonetics, phonemes, and phonology
I think of him
His scholarship, dedication, and perseverance are remembered

He taught us much
And is remembered well by us
May he rest in peace as he ever chose
And may we pray ever for his kind in this world

M.L. Katyanee Svastikula Sahr, Ph.D.
A.C.E.M.I., Pennsylvania 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.