Frank R. Palmer

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Robert Frank Palmer (born 9 April 1922) is a British linguist, linguistic researcher and former lecturer.

Robert Frank Palmer
Born 9 April 1922
Nationality English
Fields Linguistics
Known for Systemic functional linguistics
Influences J.R. Firth

Academic career

As a child Palmer lived with his parents in Kendleshire (South Gloucestershire ). Palmer took his first school lessons at the Hambrook School (Hambrook), enrolling there on 30 August 1926, as recorded in the Admission Register 1922–1946. On 2 September 1932 he went to Bristol Grammar School.[1] Later, Palmer was educated at New College, Oxford.

In the 1940s, Palmer was a member of the British Army, he attained a military rank of a Lieutenant. After the end of World War II, in the fifties, Palmer acquired the position of a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. From 1950 to 1960 he was Lecturer in SOAS, University of London.[2] John Rupert Firth encouraged there a number of his disciples and colleagues, many who later became well known linguists, to carry out research on a number of African and Oriental languages. Firth was the Head of Department at the time and was a major influence on Terence Frederick Mitchell worked on Arabic and Berber languages, Palmer on Ethiopean languages, Michael Halliday on Chinese and Richard Keith Sprigg who specialised in the phonology of Asian languages.

His wife, Jean Elizabeth Palmer, and he had their first child in 1950.[3]

In 1952 he undertook an exploring journey to Ethiopia for one year to research into the local languages.[4] His scientific interests had been the Ethiopian languages for instance Tigre, Bilin, Amharic languages and the language of the Agaw people from the group of the Cushitic languages.

Palmer became Professor of Linguistics at University College, Bangor in 1960, and in 1965 he was appointed Professor of Linguistic Science at the University of Reading. And there he fulfilled in teaching and searching his official academic duties from 1965 to 1987, he is now Emeritus Professor of the Linguistic Science. He records the following memberships, Fellow of the British Academy and the Academia Europaea. Already in 1955 he was inducted into Linguistic Society of America (LSA).[5] Moreover, in 1971 Palmer was in the order of professors one of the LSA Professorship Holders.[6]

Palmer was the editor of the Journal of Linguistics from 1969 until 1979. Together with Sir John Lyons, he published in 1976 in two volumes Semantics.

Palmer's professional engagements have enjoyed a world-wide reputation and therefore an extensive travelling in North and South America, Asia, North Africa, and Europe. In 1981 he has lectured as a Professor at the Beijing Foreign Studies University located in Beijing.

Palmer's Mood and Modality

Palmer treats modality in language or languages generally.[7] On this book ″Mood and Modality″ first published in 1986, Palmer developed a typological study of modality or mood. An other publication ″Modality and the English Modals″ already appeared in 1979. Palmer points out that the interest on mood and modality, as well as on grammatical typology in general, and this is quite a recent affair.

Classification of modality in modal systems. Modality can be classified as Propositional Modality and Event Modality. Propositional Modality can be further subdivided into

Event Modality in turn can be of two types:

  • Deontic Modality[9] and
  • Dynamic Modality.

The distinction between Deontic Modality, the conditioning factors are external to the relevant individual or speaker, whereas with Dynamic Modality they are internal.[10]

Partial list of written works

  • Mood and Modality. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1986), ISBN 0-521-31930-7.
  • Modals and Actuality. Journal of Linguistics 13 (1977), 1–23
  • Semantics. together with John Lyons, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1981, ISBN 0-521-28376-0
  • Literature and Moral Understanding: Philosophical Essay on Ethics, Aesthetics, Education and Culture. Oxford University Press, (1992), ISBN 0-19-824232-8.
  • Grammatical Roles and Relations. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics, Cambridge University Press, (2008), ISBN 978-0-521-45836-8.
  • The English Verb. Longman Linguistics Library, (1988), ISBN 0-582-29714-1.
  • The Verb Classes of Agaw (Awiya). In: Mitteilungen des Instituts für Orientforschung. Berlin (1959) 7,2, p. 270–297.
  • Bilin “to be” and “to have”. In: African Language Studies. (1965) 6, p. 101–111.
  • Word classes in Bilin. In: Lingua. (1966) 17(1–2), p. 200–209.
  • An outline of Bilin phonology. In: Atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studi Etiopici (Roma 2–4 April 1959). Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rom, p. 109–116.
  • The Morphology of the Tigre Noun. (= London oriental series. 13). Routledge Curzon, 1962, OCLC 4320882.
  • The noun in Bilin. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (1958) 21:376–391.
  • Studies in the history of linguistic science: a festschrift for Robert H. Robins. Frank R. Palmer together with Theodora Bynon (eds.) Cambridge University Press, (1986).
  • Frank R. Palmer: Lexical aspect in English. Selected Papers from the 18th ISTAL, 2009, p. 1–15
  • The broken plurals of Tigrinya.(1955)
  • The derived forms of the Tigrinya verb. (1960)
  • Some remarks on the grammar and phonology of the 'compound verbs' in Cushitic and Ethiopian Semitic. Roma : Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Problemi attuali di scienza e di cultura, quaderno n. 191, . pp. 71–77 (1974)
  • Affinity and genetic relationship in two Cushitic languages. In: To honour Roman Jakobson: essays on the occasion of his seventieth birthday. The Hague & Paris : Mouton & Co.., pp. 1489–1496., (1967)
  • Comparative statement and Ethiopian Semitic. Transactions of the Philological Society (1958), pp. 119–145.


  1. how noted in Admission Register 1922–1946: ″Won scholarship for Bristol Grammar School″. Hambrook School Admission Register 1922–1946, at
  2. Book excerptise. Grammar Frank Robert Palmer. Clause --bio
  3. Winterbourne Parish Records – Frenchay Museum & Archives, at
  4. Anastasios Tsangalidēs; Roberta Facchinetti; Frank Robert Palmer: Studies on English Modality: In Honour of Frank Palmer. Band 111 von Linguistic Insights. Studies in Language and Communication, Peter Lang, Oxford 2009, ISBN 978-3-0343-0310-1, pp. 9
  5. member list of LSA
  6. The formerly LSA Professorship LSA
  7. Charles W. Kreidler: Introducing English Semantics. Routledge, London / New York (1998), ISBN 0-415-18063-5, pp. 95 and 248
  8. see also or compare Epistemic modal logic.
  9. see also or compare Deontic logic.
  10. Terence Langendoen: Palmer, Mood and Modality, 2nd ed. LINGUIST List 12.2018, Fri Aug 10 2001

External links