‘Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist whose elegant essays and books explained to a general audience how English has adapted to changes in politics, popular culture and technology, died on Aug. 11 at his home in San Francisco. He was 75.
Mr. Nunberg’s fascination with the way people communicate found expression in acclaimed books like “Going Nucular: Language, Politics, and Culture in Confrontational Times” (2001); in scholarly work in areas like the relationship between written and spoken language; and in lexicography — he was chairman of the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary.
He was one of a small group of linguists, among them Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker, renowned beyond their academic universes.
“I always saw him as the paragon of public intellectualism,” the linguist Ben Zimmer, who writes a column on language for The Wall Street Journal, wrote in an email. “He was a lucid, effective communicator about thorny linguistic issues for many decades.”…’
Nunberg’s platform as a commentator on NPR’s “Fresh Air” not only gave him importance for those of us with that peculiar fascination with linguistics but allowed him to illuminate the central role of language as a battleground shaping political attitudes, often on an unconscious level. George Lakoff is the other person in that role for me, but is less visible and accessible.