Throughout his academic career, Robert Kirsner has worn two hats: he is both a general linguist and a neerlandicus (= Netherlandicist, or scholar of Dutch, including in his case its sister language, Afrikaans). Kirsner’s research lies in discourse-functional, sign-based, and cognitive linguistics. He is also deeply interested in creating an empirically viable linguistics, one relying on inter-subjective data (from linguistic corpora and psycholinguistic experiments) rather than the linguist’s own “intuitions” about “grammaticality”.
Representative publications include The Problem of Presentative Sentences in Modern Dutch (1979), Qualitative-Quantitative Analyses of Dutch and Afrikaans Grammar and Lexicon (2014), the edited book The Low Countries and Beyond (1993), the co-edited book Cognitive and Communicative Approaches to Linguistic Analysis (2004), and such papers such as “The role of zullen in the grammar of Modern Standard Dutch” (1969), “From meaning to message in two theories: Cognitive and Saussurean views of the Dutch demonstratives” (1993), “Boundary tones and the semantics of the Dutch final particles hè, hoor, zeg and joh” (with Vincent J. van Heuven, 1996), “The pragmatics of precision: Geometric and non-geometric periphrastic progressives in Modern English” (with Willem A. van der Kloot, 1998), “The future of a minimalist linguistics in a maximalist world” (2002), “Doing grammatical semantics as if it were phonetics” (2014), and “A return to zullen: The linguistic status of je zal maar X” (2015).
In 2005 Professor Kirsner was elected honorary foreign member of the Belgian Koninklijke Academie voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde. In 2007 he was elected to membership in the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns.
A Professor of Dutch and Afrikaans in the Germanic Languages Department at the University of California, Los Angeles since 1972, Robert Kirsner leaves a lasting impression on friends, colleagues, and the UCLA community that will extend well beyond his professional tenure.