Remembering Richard Xiao, 1966-2016

I first met Richard in 2000, when he came to Lancaster to be my PhD student. Interested initially in doing a PhD in the area of translation studies, I spoke to him about corpus research and, slowly as the months passed, he decided to use corpora to look at an interesting issue in linguistics – aspect. This was the first of many areas where we happily worked together. Over weeks and months we slowly worked on the problem of integrating corpora and theory, finally arriving at what we both felt was a very satisfactory outcome: a PhD for Richard, a book we wrote on the topic and one or two nice papers.

Early on Richard showed real promise as a researcher so, as I often do with my students, I set Richard onto a few side projects which we pursued together. The first project we worked on was on the F-word in English. I had analysed bad language in the spoken and written BNC, but my book on swearing in English only used the spoken material. So we worked together on the written data and produced the paper ‘Swearing in Modern British English’ which was published in Language and Literature.

That started something of a wave of publications from us – we worked together very well. We had similar interests and personalities, but, most importantly, we felt very comfortable about disagreeing with one another. Those disagreements were always purely intellectual – a cross word never passed between us. They were also not fruitless – we would always debate the point until one or the other of us would change our minds. Working with Richard was a pleasure.

On finishing his PhD Richard started to work as my research assistant. Courtesy of a grant from the UK ESRC we carried on our work on the grammar of Chinese. When I went on secondment from Lancaster University to the UK AHRC, I continued to work with Richard who remained my research assistant. Without Richard working pretty independently of me most of the time while I was on secondment, my time at the AHRC would have been much tougher. As it was, I could focus on the research council work during the day and then check in with Richard in the evening to see how our work was going. The end result was a series of papers on Chinese grammar that I am very proud to be associated with and the book Corpus-Based Contrastive Studies of English and Chinese.

After the grant we were working on finished we hit a snag – we had a very interesting project on Chinese split words lined up, but as I was working for the research council at that time I could not apply to them for a grant and as a research assistant Richard was ineligible to apply. So we wrote the proposal and persuaded our colleague Anna Siewierska to take on the supervisor role on the project. The project was funded and Richard and Anna worked together very well, though I will always regret not being able to be part of that work as it is so interesting. Look at this paper, for example:

Around the time that this grant was awarded Richard got his first lecturing position at the University of Central Lancashire, moving on to Edge Hill University and finally, to my delight, in 2012 he moved back to Lancaster University, where he was swiftly promoted to Reader.

In the fourteen years from when I first met him to the point where he retired on ill health grounds, if Richard had only done the work described above he would have had a good career. However, he did so much more as his Google Scholar profile shows:

In addition to what he did with me, he also undertook a great range of excellent research on his own, especially in the area of translation studies. Importantly, he contributed to the construction of a wide range of corpora of Mandarin Chinese as can be seen here:

I was delighted when Richard successfully applied to become a British citizen and was honoured to be asked to support his application. I was so pleased to be able to help Richard, his wife Lyn and his daughter in this way.

Sadly, Richard was diagnosed with cancer in 2013. Through surgery, chemotherapy and sheer will power he survived to the 2nd January 2016. The length of his illness, while distressing, did allow us time to publicly celebrate his work:

Throughout his illness he was unfailingly cheerful and optimistic. He was also still brimming with ideas – he was writing and undertaking journal and research council reviews until a few months before he left his suffering behind. I have no doubt that if he had survived longer he would have written many more books and papers well worth reading. As it was, when we last spoke together, just before Christmas 2015, we had a lovely time remembering what we had achieved together. Indeed this brief remembrance of Richard contains many of the things we recalled in that conversation. One thing we did was to decide upon our favourite three publications that we had written together. It seems appropriate to share these in his memory – we both thought they were well worth a read! They are:

McEnery, A. M. & Xiao, R. Z. (2004) ‘Swearing in modern British English: the case of fuck in the BNC.’ Language and Literature. 13, 3, pp. 235-268.


McEnery, A. M. & Xiao, R. Z. (2005) ‘HELP or HELP to: What do corpora have to say?’ English Studies. 86, 2, pp. 161-187.


Collocation, semantic prosody and near synonymy: A cross-linguistic perspective.

Xiao, R. Z. & McEnery, A. M. (2006) Applied Linguistics. 27, 1, pp. 103-129.


We spent a pleasant time discussing these papers and then we said farewell to each other. I can imagine no better a final conversation between two scholars and friends who worked together so well. I am so happy that we had the chance to have this final meeting of minds. Not only will it be a precious memory for me, I know that it meant a great deal to him. I will miss Richard very much, as will others. However, through his writing his thoughts will live on and as further studies are produced by others on the basis of his corpora, the energy, kindness and ingenuity of Richard Xiao will blaze forth afresh.