Professor Michel Blanc
Without even knowing it, Professor Michel Blanc was an archetypal Birkbeck student. In France he gained the equivalent to a BA and MA in English Language and Literature while working full-time as a school supervisor. He then settled in Britain and obtained a BA in French as an external student at the University of London, while teaching during the day.
After a stint at UCL as a Research Assistant, Michel was appointed to the French Department at Birkbeck in 1959, where, two years later, he completed his PhD on The narrative tenses in Old French. His training in the two disciplines of French and linguistics led him in 1965 to establish the Language Research Centre (now the Department of Applied Linguistics and Language Centre) with the help of colleagues and the financial support of the Nuffield Foundation to do research in Applied Linguistics and the Psychology of Learning Languages. From 1968 to 1972 he directed the DES-funded Sociolinguistic Survey of Spoken French in Orléans – to this day the most important of its kind in France.
At the Université Laval in Quebec, Michel developed his expertise in bilingualism and, in 1979, first as Visiting Professor, later as Honorary research Fellow at the Centre International de Recherche sur le Bilinguisme, he worked with an interdisciplinary team investigating the contact between the French and English in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada. This collaborative research generated many articles and books, such as Bilinguality and Bilingualism, co-written with JF Hamers – the third edition of which was published in 2000 by CUP. Partly as a result of this activity, Birkbeck became the University of London Centre for Canadian Studies.
On retiring early from Birkbeck in 1990, Michel joined the University of Hertfordshire as Visiting Research Professor, with funding from the European Community, to work on learning styles in language teaching. He is now an Honorary Research Fellow at the Université de Savoie, a Fellow of the Académie Florimontane, and a member of the Association pour l’Etude de la Littérature Apocryphe Chrétienne at the Université de Lausanne, working on Biblical intertextuality. He has published 20 books and over 70 papers.
'As a Birkbeck Honorary Research Fellow, I've never lost touch with my former colleagues, but I have missed the students. They brought their experience of life and languages, their enthusiasm, their motivation, and contributed to our teaching. Many of them have published extensively in their own fields or provided an input into innovative organisations, some going into posts in higher education. In the words of a distinguished Professor of English Literature, 'teaching at Birkbeck is a lifelong love affair.
'We need more institutions like Birkbeck, and not only in Britain. Vive le Birkbeck libre!'
After the ceremony Michel has been invited by his department to give a lecture, Multilingualism in the Ancient Near East and he is overjoyed that, on 6 November, a one-day colloquium is being held in his honour by some of his former colleagues and students.