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Herbert, a linguist, dies at 55


Former Binghamton professor Robert K. Herbert, 55, died July 6 in Costa Rica while swimming with two of his children.

Herbert, a linguist, joined Binghamton’s faculty in 1979 and went on to serve as chair of the Anthropology Department from 1996-2001.

The author of two scholarly books, he edited numerous others. Herbert also wrote more than two dozen children’s books for language and reading development.

Herbert, who held master’s and doctoral degrees in linguistics from Ohio State University, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Queens College. He also held a master’s in higher education administration from the University of Michigan.

“I had great admiration for him as a father, as a scholar and as an intellectual,” said Michael Little, distinguished professor of anthropology. Little recalled Herbert having strong ideas and ambitions for their department, as well as a clever approach to his administrative work.

“His scholarship was very interesting,” Little added, “because he had the capacity to develop interests in a variety of linguistic problems.”

H. Stephen Straight, vice provost for undergraduate education and international affairs, said he and Herbert shared a strong interest in the neurological basis of language ability. They authored a widely cited paper on the differences between American and South African speakers of English in the giving and receiving of compliments. Straight said he and Herbert also worked together on curriculum development and noted that a course Herbert created, “Language, Culture, and Communication in the United States,” remains a popular offering at Binghamton.

Herbert, who had been provost of Youngstown State University in Ohio for two years, left Binghamton in 2001 to become dean of liberal arts at Steven F. Austin State University in Texas.

A Long Island native, Herbert is survived by his wife, Barbara Nykiel-Herbert, a faculty member in Youngstown State’s English department, as well as a daughter and two sons.

“Bob was a devoted and rightfully proud father and husband,” Straight said. “His wife and children deserve our deepest sympathy and will need our strongest support as they come to terms with his tragic and untimely death.”

A funeral was held July 13 in Queens; a memorial will be held at Youngstown State at a later date.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08