Jonathan Fine (1949 - 2015)

Jonathan FineWith great sorrow we must inform the linguistics community of the untimely death of our colleague and friend Jonathan Hartley Fine ז"ל, professor of linguistics at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, who passed away on September 10, 2015 at Shaarey Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem after a short and sudden illness. He had lived in Jerusalem for the past 35 years. 

Jonathan was born April 18, 1949 in Toronto where he attended Glendon College, graduating with a B.A. in English and political science in 1971 and an MA in English. There, he was introduced to systemic functional linguistics and mentored by Michael Gregory. He also completed an MA in English at York University. He pursued linguistics and systemics at Cornell where he studied with Charles Hockett, but he also spoke warmly about Joe Grimes, Sally McConnell-Ginet and Linda Waugh. Beyond the demographics, Jonathan’s preparation at Glendon and York in literature and political philosophy stimulated his broad interests. This wide intellectual scope took him to systemic functional linguistics, child language and second language discourse studies and the neurolinguistics of psychiatric disorders, among many other places in and beyond linguistics. He consulted and collaborated with Michael Cole and Bill Hall at the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition at Rockefeller, with Carl Bereiter at OISE and with Roy Freedle at ETS. He knew his way around Departments of Psychiatry, working at Rutgers Medical School and McMaster Psychiatric Institute, and he eventually developed a long-standing collaboration with Peter Bartolucci and Rosemary Tannock at The Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto.

Jonathan’s research focussed on text analysis and in particular on the analysis of transcripts of doctor/patient interactions as an entry to the interface of language and psychiatry, publishing extensively and showing a keen awareness of the fuzzy boundaries between psychiatry and neurology. He gradually developed a theoretical model for the analysis of psychatrist/patient interaction, culminating in his book, Language in Psychiatry: A Handbook for Clinical Practice (Fine, J. 2006. London: Equinox). This book, for psychiatrists, emphasized the crucial importance of linguistically educated listening, and is testimony to what made Jonathan such a special person. As well as stressing the need for professionalism and high academic standards, it expresses his belief in the importance of individuals and of listening to them, and his conviction that top quality academic research could and should interact with the world outside the university and impact positively on people’s lives. In other words, besides being the fruit of many years of research, it was an expression of his essential humanism.

Jonathan came to the English Department at Bar-Ilan in 1982 as the third linguist in a fledgling linguistics program which he helped mentor to a level of 10 senior faculty members and several dozen graduate students, with a mission to provide strong theoretical foundations for research on a range of theoretical and applied problems. He never liked the distinction between theoretical and applied linguistics, and sought to make sure that all students had a good basic general linguistics education, no matter where they ended up specialising. Jonathan coordinated the Linguistics section at Bar-Ilan, chaired the English Literature and Linguistics Department and was involved, in recent years, in the development of the new program for Linguistics in Clinical Research. Outside the department, he saw his main contribution to the university in his membership on two of the University’s key committees, “Appointments and Promotions” and the committee which established the Graduate College and keeps a close eye on the quality of PhDs and MAs. He was tight-lipped about everything in those committees, only a small part of his impeccable integrity.

Jonathan loved to teach. He prepared every lecture¸ even those he had given many times before, from content to organization and back to content. He looked forward to the out-of-the-box reaction and relished the discussion which followed. But as much of, or maybe more than, a teacher, Jonathan was a mentor. He advised two dozen graduate theses, each one individually tailored to the student’s interests and his own expertises. Many of these focused on language and psychiatry (schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, Tourettes, depression and hepatic encephalopathy). His teaching and mentoring drew from an amazing library of recordings, transcripts and lecture notes as well as what he took from tireless searches and reading of current work, from philosophy and neuroscience to cognitive and neuro-psychology and beyond.

Jonathan had a rich life outside academia. His home was full of classical music, refurbished furniture and the smells of his vegetarian cooking, but most of all it was filled with the many personal attributes which have made the world a better place. His home was always open -- for sleeping, eating, studying, and shmoozing. No guest ever made a bed, cooked a meal, did a dish. It was effortless for him. He was a gifted friend, and each one of us, colleagues, students and friends, has a personal story of how Jonathan helped or took care of us when we needed it, never mentioning it again after the event. He organized minyanim (private prayer services) for mourners in his neighborhood, tailoring them to the needs and times of the mourning family, and providing help in many different ways. As one of his daughters said at the funeral, her father gave “with no expectation to get in return.” Jonathan loved his children and grandchildren and was proud of them in ways his modesty never let him express.

Those who knew him will always remember him as a great humanist, a most knowledgeable yet modest person who radiated generosity and kindness in his interaction with colleagues and students.

זכרו ברוך יהי May his memory be blessed.

Susan Rothstein and Joel Walters, Bar-Ilan University



"To the family,

I am sorry for your loss. I participated in two classes of Prof. Fine, and immediately fell in love with his enthusiastic, most inspiring and captivating character. He truly was one of a kind.

I send my condolences over to you, all the strength and faith you will need.
May you know no more sorrow."

Chen Levi

"Although he has not taught me , I have been told only good things about him. I am sending my condolences to the family.
May his memory be for a blessing"


"Prof. Fine was the first to welcome me into the department 9 years ago. His kindness was obvious then and made me feel confident in my decision to join the department, sure enough, he did not ""let me down"". He was always smiling, listening and encouraging, always willing to give out advice and knowledge despite his full schedule. In our last meeting, just several months ago he was, as always, proud and encouraging of my research and his kind words will stay with me always. 

Rest in peace dear teacher, you were a true kind soul in this difficult world."


"Professor Fine was my phd supervisor for two years. It is very difficult to use the word "was" for a wonderful person and a great teacher who left so early. His memory will remain for how nice, humble and a giving person, and for how rich with knowledge and wisdom he was. I wish I had the chance to thank him for guiding me developing my research, for being so nice, patient, and a caring person to me."

Khaloob Kawar

"Prof. Jonathan Fine was a big hearted person, with a huge motivation to teach and an adavnced sense of humor. I had only been in one course of his by I only i'll be remmbering him in the years to come.


Itay Bashan

"Prof. Fine has only taught me one course and this was enough to see what a lovely man he is. I could really see how patient and caring he is, which are very important features of teachers. It is such a shock for me that he is gone now and I will always remember him. The course I did with him was a very hard course and without the caring and patient Prof. Fine, I could never pass that course. I am very thankful that he was teaching me that course.

R.I.P Prof. Fine. I'll be thinking of you."

Abigail Amsterdamer

"As Joel and Susan write, when Jonathan joined the linguists in the English department at Bar-Ilan, he added not just a valuable balance (a Hallidayan in what was essentially a Chomskyan world) but also a brilliant connection between theory and practice in a new dimension - not just educational linguistics but in the relevance of language to psychiatry. He was an ideal colleague - quiet and solid in his work, devoted to his students, highly productive in research and publication, and willing to take his full share of the chores of administration. I know he made my own days at Bar Ilan easier and more collegial, and that he continued in his sterling contribution after I had retired. He will be sorely missed, and his memory will remain a blessing to all who knew him."

Bernard Spolsky

"I remember Jonathan from many years ago as someone with a distinguished intellect who was also a gentle and generous-spirited man. I met him only at conferences, but I recognised in him, even from that small degree of contact, an exceptional person. I send my sincere sympathy to his family in their loss."

Eirian Davies

"I only met Jonathan briefly on one or two occasions, but had the good fortune to see him present his research and to have conversations with him about that and about life more generally. He was a kind and generous man and scholar, and I am sad to hear he has passed away. My sincere condolences to his family and loved ones."

John Knox

"His good work both within and outside the academia will live on.He invested in people and touched several lives.His legacies will live on."

Adegboye Adeyanju

"My fondest memory of Jonathan was of the times we carpooled to work from Highland Park, trading puns all the way.

Jonathan was ... Jonathan.  May his memory be for a blessing."

Louis Steinberg

"I was so sad to hear the news of Prof. Fine passing. He was one of the best teachers I ever had, and his passion and love for teaching and for his students were evident in each class he gave. He always took the time to explain everything to every single person in class, and never once gave a student the feeling that the question was silly or out of place. He was always very kind and sweet, and I genuinely enjoyed sitting in his classroom. I will forever remember his "shoe-size - vocabulary" example for "correlation doesn't prove causation"... his way of thinking just seemed to make sense to me. I truly feel sad for the next generation of students that will no longer get to sit in his classroom.

My heartfelt condolences to his family. He will be remembered."

Anat Dayag

"Jonathan was a student of mine at Glendon College, many long years ago. He has been a dear friend and colleague ever since then. I learned so much from him."

Jim Benson

"I am really shocked to hear that Prof. Fine is no longer with us. I took three of his courses. He always taught us with so much enthusiasm and tried to make us share the same love and passion that he had for scientific research."


"Jonathan was a year ahead of me at Glendon; and he led the first research project I ever participated in, studying the language of primary school children (directed by Richard Handscombe). After Glendon we went our separate ways, Jonathan ending up in Israel, via a PhD at Cornell, and me in Australia, after mine at Essex. So we only caught up occasionally at ISFC meetings and the couple of times he visited Oz; but he remained a dear colleague, mentor and friend through all those decades.

I thankfully recall his warmth and kindness, his positive outlook on life (and he had more personal misfortunes to work his way through than most of us) and his scholarship, which featured an open mind and critical disposition… in the most positive sense of critical – always ready to listen, to help and give advice, to caution where work remained to be done and to encourage and value what had been achieved. I particularly appreciated his development of the language disorder work I was involved in at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in Toronto in the 80s, extending far beyond our early SFL initiatives there. Such a charitable fellow. Such a loss to our community."

Jim Martin

"Jon, wonderful friend, great but humble scholar, proud father and grandfather, I miss you. Rest in peace."

Julie Drexler

"Change the way you listen to the world around you…all what you have to do is to listen…listen…listen" These are Prof. Fine's words which helped me change my perspective on human relations and the way people communicate. These words are my new GPS to track hidden intentions and concealed messages.Simply, my view to the world has changed, and my communicative abilities took a new path.
Prof. Fine's words are my beacon to have  better life opportunities.
Prof. Fine,
You are the teacher who brings change
You are the teacher who guides
You are the teacher who leads
You are the teacher who never dies
All what I want is to have the chance to say THANK YOU"

Hala Abdelhai

"I think a teacher's influence on his student is at least as valuable an achievement as his own contribution to research.  I came to Jonathan at a delicate point in my life, as a mature student, starting a second career teaching scientific writing. Jonathan accepted me as a Ph.D. student, even though my planned research was rather far from his own specialized field. He was the perfect mentor, asking the right questions, commenting helpfully  on my work and most of all giving me the confidence to work independently. That I have continued in SFL research, even after I retired, is evidence of his influence on me. But most importantly, he was a warm, kind, and modest human being."

Beverly Lewin

"I was so sad to learn of Jonathan's passing. We have long been colleagues and friends, but I hadn't heard from him in a few weeks (but it was the chagim...).

So very sad to hear of his passing. He was a real mensch! A man of sensitivity and humor and caring...

He will be missed by many..."

Ilana Rosansky

"I knew Jonathan from his Highland Park, New Jersey days. We were neighbors, both newly married and his oldest daughter had just been born. His gentleness as a father inspired me to open up to the idea of fatherhood, and he remained a role model during the years we spent in Highland Park and later. He taught me Torah, and showed me what it looked like to live as a true mensch. My heart is broken and I will miss this beautiful soul."

David Siegman

"את ג'ונתן הייתה לי הזכות להכיר מקרוב בזכות היותי עוזרת מחקר במחלקה שלנו במשך שנים רבות, ולאחר מכן בזכות היותי סט' באחד הקורסים שלו

כמובן שלא אשכח גם את התיקונים המדויקים שלו על עבודת התזה שלי
אדם נדיר, מיוחד וייחודי, תמיד מאיר פנים עם חיוך לבבי, מוכן ומזומן לכל בקשה או לסתם 'שלום' ידידותי
ואני לא במקרה כותבת 'ג'ונתן', ולא פרופ' פיין – כי זו הדרך בה הוא ביקש ממני לפנות אליו, לפני שנים רבות

מספר פעמים ישבתי במשרד שלו, המלא כל טוב, כדי לשוחח, להתייעץ, או סתם להעביר חוויות (לאחר קבלת התואר השלישי המיוחל), והכל בסבר פנים יפות, שעושה כל כך טוב על הלב
מודה על הזכות להכיר אדם מיוחד כל כך
we will all miss him."

Efrat Harel

"Yonathan was for me an excellent colleague. I shared wih him a lot of scientific and often ethical discussions. We have participated together in a lot of scientific committees and I enjoyed it very much: his integrity was indeed " impeccable" and he could not bare injustice, meanness and dishonesty. We had the same conception of the concept of university and humanities. His absence is a great lost. I'm a linguist as he was, but a member of the French culture department : so my english has a French flavour, but he was first a בן אדם and, at this level, there are no differences. I will regret very much this colleague and בן אדם מאוד יקר."

Roselyne Koren

"Dear Professor Fine,
only good memories will stay from you. I guess they all started by the minute you entered classes. Always coming right on time, carrying your old, but precious, materials. Greeting us with a real smile and light in your eyes.
An enthusiastic person. An enthusiastic teacher. For me it felt like you were an actor that displays knowledge into meaning. I can remember your explanations from real true situations. You used to explain over again to those who didn't catch,and encouraged those who have asked for more. Strict, but considerable, super professional, but never talks to you as you cant grow, too. Demanding, but believing and always willing to help.
Textual analysis and conversational analysis are to me some big concepts that you broke into little tiny pieces of meaning, and i mean to meaning about my personal life, too. Dear Professor Fine, I've learned so much from you and i am very sad that you are not with us anymore.
You can be sure that down here you will always be remembered with your charm, joy, and many many pieces of knowledge. Knowledge that will create new meanings to reality,
Thank you for all this,
rest in peace."

Avishag Finkelstine

"Almost a year has gone by since the sad news of the sudden death of Professor Fine.  It came to me as a great shock. It was during the time that I had exchanged emails with Professor Fine and planned that he would be my supervisor in my PhD.
I was honoured to have attended two of his seminars. However, his way of teaching has gone beyond that.  His inspiration, way of thinking, motivation and open mindedness had helped me to develop my own ideas and transform them into the language of clinical linguistic. With his support, availability and motivation he had allowed me to be in contact with my creativity, starting from squiggling until reaching a proper image, an academic paper, a research study in clinical linguistic.
Professor Fine’s lectures were usually in the early evening, but his lectures were so invigorating that it felt as though it was the morning; in the class, he had evoked us concentration, involvement and interest. In his very systematic way of teaching he had helped us to develop the clinical linguistic mind and thinking; he had opened each lesson with the small sentence “where did we stop” and at the end of each lesson he said “keep in mind it is a work in process”; these fragment of concrete sentences have left strong impression on me as they are entangled with the mental states he had and engulfed with the emotions that he had to his work, “work in process”.
It was a privilege to be his student and a great loss!"

Galit Treves

"I knew Jonathan many years ago when we were volunteers on Mayaan Baruch kibbutz in 1968. He was a wonderful friend for all these years.  His passing leaves me with much sorrow.  He will be missed.  One day when I go, I look forward to meeting Jonathan in heaven where I know he is conducting wonderful lectures.  Jonathan my friend - RIP."


"I only found out last night (December 2017) after speaking with Miriam. I am so sorry to learn of his passing. He was a client but much more than that.  A real mench and a fun person to be with. My condolences to his family."

Jonathan Greenstein

"I studied with Prof. Fine as much as I could. I carry him with me in my heart, in my work, where his integrity as a scientist is an example of how to be, and sometimes just in everyday life, where his phrase "onwards and upwards" guides me and gently pushes me forward. I am grateful for the chance I had to learn from him."


"I remember Johathan at Cornell, where we roomed in the same house for half a year.  He was a wonderful gentleman."