|Administrative History||Alan Strode Campbell Ross was born on 1 February 1907 at Brecon. He was the elder son of Archibald Campbell Carne Ross, a land agent, and his wife, Millicent Strode nee Cobham. His paternal grandfather, Charles Campbell Ross, had been a banker in Penzance, mayor of Penzance, and MP for St Ives. |
A.S.C.Ross was educated at Malvern College and Christ College, Brecon, and entered Balliol College, Oxford in 1925. He had done well at school in physics and had been awarded a scholarship, and intended to study astronomy. At first he read mathematics but he was placed in the second class in the first examination, and changed to study Engolish language and literature. He had limited interest in the study of literature, though he was very widely-read in works from the Anglo-Saxon period onwards, with a special interest in nineteenth- and twentieth century fiction. He graduated with a first class honours degree in 1929, and immediately obtained a post as lecturer in English at the University of Leeds, where he stayed until the Second World War.
Ross married Elizabeth Stefanyja Olszewska, daughter of daughter of Maciej Bronislaw Waclaw Olszewski and Ada Ethel Briggs of Warsaw, on 11 July 1933. She was a scholar of Old Icelandic and Middle English literatures and taught at several Oxford colleges. They had one son, Alan Waclaw Padmint Ross.
Ross's interests in linguistics were founded on the philology of the Germanic languages centred on Old and Middle English and tracing Germanic phonology to Indo-European. These were widenend to include new developments in linguistics during the 1930s. Ross was also interested in Finno-Ugrian languages and non-European languages. He primarily studied languages through grammars and dictionaries and, although he liked to talk to speakers of many languages, he did not master foreign languages to the extent that he could speak fluently and without accent. He read widely in them and used them mainly for comparative linguistic purposes. During this time he published 'The Dream of the Rood' in 1934, which he edited with B. Dickins, and which was the standard edition of this Anglo-Saxon poem for many years. He drew on his mathematical as well as his linguistic interests in 'The Numerical Signs of the Mohenjo-Daro Script', published in 1938. He travelled widely in Europe during the 1930s, partly to study languages, and often to meet linguists and philologists, including Karl Luick in Vienna. Ross's most original work was on Old English, and his work on the language of the Old English (Northumbrian) gloss to the Lindisfarne gospels and other northern texts, published as 'Studies in the Accidence of the Lindisfarne Gospels' in 1937, was based on the work of grammarians and especially phonologists of English, Luick, Eduard Sievers and, specificially for Northumbrian, Uno Lindelöf of Helsinki.
Ross worked at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire during the Second World War. In 1946 he was appointed to the department of English at the University of Birmingham, and then to a personal professorship in English language from 1948 to 1951. From 1951 until his retirement in 1974 he held the chair of linguistics created for him at Birmingham. During his time at Birmingham he was tutor at University House, student hall of residence
He edited the journal 'English and Germanic Studies', renamed 'English Philological Studies' 1947-1968, and contributed to many other journals, including submissions on statistical approaches to linguistic problems. He founded a series called 'Aldrediana in which he and others advanced much of hte detailed scholarship on Aldred, the scribe of the glosses to the Lindisfarne gospels and the Durham ritual. He was interested in the lexical and phonological complexity of words, and wrote on 'ginger' and on the names of numerals. He organised the facsimile edition of the Lindisfarne gospels, published in 1956 and 1960, on which he had first published while a lecturer at Leeds. This was followed by a facsimile edition of the Durham ritual in 1969. In the 1950s he taught as a visiting professor at Kingston, Jamaica, and developed an interest in Jamaican English. Later he learnt Tahitian in Paris by conversing with native speakers, and used that knowledge in a book, 'The Pitcairnese Language', with A. W. Moverley, published in 1964
Ross became nationally famous when he published a sociolinguistic study of present-day English, ‘Linguistic class-indicators in present-day English’ (Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 55, 1954, 20–56), popularized in various publications, most notably with Nancy Mitford in 'Noblesse Oblige: an Enquiry into the Identifiable Characteristics of the English Aristocracy' (1956). In all of these he attempted to distinguish upper-class linguistic usage, ‘U’, from that of the other classes, ‘non-U’. The foundations for that work had been laid as an undergraduate amusement at Oxford. He knew that the linguistic study of social class ‘marches with anthropology’, yet his assertion that in English ‘it is solely by its language that the upper class is marked off from the others’ led him to some circularity: his own usage was always pivotal to what he regarded as U. He admitted that such class-distinguishers were not for all time, but changed from generation to generation. His listings are comprehensive, and though his analysis may be the result of impression rather than of establishing a corpus sufficient for his scientific purpose, no other of Ross's writings so well show his wit, a quality that made him delightfully amusing company.
Alan S. C. Ross died of cancer on 23 September 1980 in St Barnabas's Hospice in Worthing, Sussex. He was buried in the Lodge Hill cemetery, Selly Oak, Birmingham, probably on 30 September that year
Source: E. G. Stanley, ‘Ross, Alan Strode Campbell (1907–1980)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/69690 Accessed June 2017
For further reading about the University of Birmingham see: Eric Ives, Diane Drummond, Leonard Schwarz The First Civic University: Birmingham 1880-1980 An Introductory History ( The University of University of Birmingham Press. 2000 ).