Richard Albert Wilson

Richard Albert Wilson, educator, author (b near Renfrew, Ont 18 Mar 1874; d at Vancouver 2 Jan 1949). Born on a farm in rural Ontario, he spent nearly the first half of his life working his way through school.

Wilson, Richard Albert

Richard Albert Wilson, educator, author (b near Renfrew, Ont 18 Mar 1874; d at Vancouver 2 Jan 1949). Born on a farm in rural Ontario, he spent nearly the first half of his life working his way through school. He was 27 by the time he received his BA from Queen's University in 1901, and then, in quick succession, he earned his MA, 1902, his teaching certificate, 1903, and PhD, 1906, all from Queen's. He completed his education while teaching English in secondary schools, and after graduating became Principal of Regina Normal School in 1912 and then professor of English language and literature at the University of Saskatchewan in 1915.

In 1937, 3 years before he retired from the University of Saskatchewan, Wilson collated his lecture notes and published a book entitled The Birth of Language: Its Place in World Evolution and Its Structure in Relation to Space and Time. In various English and American editions 1937-49, the book won critical accolades and popular acclaim, selling more than 100 000 copies. The book conjectures about the role played by language in the evolution of humankind, opposing Darwin's "mechanistic" views by emphasizing linguistic creativity.

For Wilson, language is "the completely efficient instrument for the elaboration of the space-time world of free mind." Virtually unaware of the developing science of LINGUISTICS, Wilson espoused a more modern view than was then current, giving central importance to mentalism and language universals. In Wilson's obituary, the literary editor of the Globe and Mail, William Arthur DEACON, said "It is a fair guess that the late Professor Emeritus Wilson was the only Canadian so far, to write a book likely to affect, in time, the outlook of all human beings." When Wilson died the book went out of print, and it was largely forgotten until 1980 when the Canadian Linguistic Association published the first Canadian edition to commemorate its silver anniversary.