Home» Publications» SLD Newsletter» Newsletter Autumn 2016» Tribute to Christian Kay

Professor Christian Kay: a tribute

Jean Anderson, SLD Board Member (Depute Convener,Treasurer and Secretary 2010-16)


Christian Kay
We will sadly miss our friend and colleague, Professor Christian Kay, who died in June this year.1

From 2002 to 2012 Christian was the Convener of the Board of Trustees of Scottish Language Dictionaries (SLD). There had been two organisations working on dictionaries: the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (DOST) and the Scottish National Dictionary Association (SNDA). DOST was supported by a Joint Council of representatives of the six universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrew's, Dundee and Stirling. SNDA was a limited company existing on subscriptions paid by members who were sent pages of entries as they became ready. By 2002 it was thought that the future of both dictionaries would be more stable if they were managed by one organisation, Scottish Language Dictionaries, which was funded by the Scottish Arts Council. Christian was elected as the first Convener of the Board of the new organisation and remained its leader until her retirement in 2012.

Christian was the ideal person to lead the dictionaries into a new century. She was Professor of English Language at the University of Glasgow and a renowned scholar in lexicography, in the history of English, in grammar and semantics, and in digital applications to language study. She was the director of the Historical Thesaurus of English, a founder of the first SCOTS Corpus and of the innovative computers in teaching project, STELLA. She was an adviser to several organisations working on Scots, Scottish English and Scottish Gaelic.

Christian worked hard to promote the study of Scots and Scottish English and directed the academic research underpinning the Scots dictionaries. Back in 2002 Christian argued for a larger Scots thesaurus made from all of DOST and SND and I hope that with the increasing use of digital technology this idea will be made real in the near future. She retained her interest in the languages of Scotland to the end of her life, continuing research on such projects as the Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing and acting as an adviser to the SLD Board.

Christian gave me my first job in academia as the STELLA programmer in 1987 and we became friends as well as colleagues, enjoying nights at the opera and long discussions on language and technology and plans for SLD. I was co-opted to the SLD Board as an adviser on computing and have relished the relationship with SLD ever since. I am just one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who have benefitted from Christian's mentoring, her generous encouragement and wise counsel. Her sound judgment, fairness and understanding will always be remembered by those who worked for and with her. Her scholarly achievements will be influential for many, many years to come.

1 University of Glasgow tribute.