In Memoriam: An Esteemed Colleague and Friend
by Dr Barry Allen Grey-Vyaard
It is with great sadness that I speak to you today regarding the death of my friend, colleague and co-late-night coffee drinker, Associate Professor Tim Smith. Stimthy, or Stimthz, as he liked to be called, an unorthodox blend of all the graphs of his two names plus <y> or <z> according to taste, was well known, respected, talked about and almost never bad-mouthed in the field of adult second language learner identity in which he and I had worked together for nearly 17 years.
As many of you know, Stimthy and I met, by chance, on a literal Ship of Theseus in the summer of 2002 in the Aegean. Despite having occupied offices on the same corridor of Threstlenostle College for four years and despite both being prolific in the field of adult second language learner identities, it was this chance encounter in the blue waters of the eastern Med, on a tourist boat owned by a chap called Theseus, where our collaboration began. Happily, we’d both chosen to holiday without our respective (or each other’s!) other halves—so there was plenty of time to talk.
And talk we did. Beginning with the problems of identity posed by Theseus’ Ship (or Moses’ Sandal or George IV’s Palace etc.), we talked ourselves past the triviality of Leibniz’s law of identity and Wittgenstein’s denial of the existence of the construct through to the far richer waters of social—and socially embodied—identity in play in language learning.
The next 17 years were amazing. We redefined, reformulated, and reframed, between us, the major constituents of learner identity—autonomy, motivation, language awareness and metacognition—to develop Dispersed Identity System (DIS). As most of you know, DIS claims that the degree of socio-cultural dispersion of the components of identity across in-principle learning-relevant contexts or settings correlates positively with retention, uptake, intake and production of all lexico-grammatical domains of the total target language system. “DIS o’ the Day” was the headline in Adult Second Language Learner Identity Quarterly (ASLLIQ) as you’ll probably remember (bettered only by Language Learner Online’s “You’ve DIS-sed us!”). But it was on publication of our groundbreaking 2017 monograph heart-rendingly entitled Dispersed Identity Theory that things got really interesting scientifically.
Stimthy and I believed what we wrote: the greater degree of socio-cultural dispersion etc., etc., etc. It follows that learning lexis and structures relating to given social situations or physical locations in situ is maximally efficient. So, off Stimthy went. Using Mongolian as our test-case target language, Stimthy sat by lakes to learn lake-related language; climbed Everest to practise superlatives; caught the flu to learn the analogues of “My heart hurts” and “My throat’s dry”; and divorced his wife to practice the lexis of emotions. It was, tragically, while he was standing in the middle of I-680 just north of San José to practise comparatives (“This car’s travelling faster than that one”) that he was hit head-on by a juggernaut.
We’ll miss Stimthy; he was the best! And in honour of his sacrifice to the linguistic science of DIS, you’ll be happy to hear that Stimthy’s ashes will be scattered across the entire 48 states of the contiguous United States. There’ll be no gravestone, instead a series of notifications across a variety of social media. That’s dispersion for you!
Do join us in the hall afterwards for drinks and nibbles.