(Originally appeared in Lognet 94/1)

Profile of Kirk Sattley

by Wesley Parsons

Kirk Sattley was born in 1928 in Chicago, Illinois. He attended college at the University of Chicago, where he obtained a Ph.B. (a U. of C. specialty) in 1947 and an S.B. (another U. of C. specialty) in 1950. He did graduate work in the department of mathematics at the University of Chicago until 1953, taking linguistics and Russian as electives.

Kirk received his S.B. as the Korean War was raging. Declining to renew his deferment, he was drafted into the military (the United Nations side), and served for two years. Fortunately, the war ended while Kirk was in basic training, and he spent his term in Germany. After his separation from the military, Kirk traveled in Europe for two years, acquiring some practical experience in European languages.

After returning to the United States, Kirk worked part-time at the University of Chicago. There he discovered computers, and decided they would be his career. He spent the next five years at U. of C. as a computer programmer.

In 1961, Kirk joined a newly formed company, Massachusetts Computer Associates. MCA is a small company that does research at the cutting edge of system-software technology, then develops designs—and sometimes products—employing its research. Kirk worked at MCA until his retirement in 1989. His work was initially in “syntax-directed” compiler technology. MCA produced the design of one of the first multi-processor operating systems. Toward the end of his career, Kirk worked on programming environments for the computer language ADA.

Kirk married Joanne in 1967 and has one son, an engineer also living in Massachusetts, and two grandchildren.

His hobbies included amateur radio, which he pursued for some time, but gradually dropped in favor of flying. Until recently Kirk was a fairly active private pilot (ratings: single engine land and sea, multi-engine land, instrument).

A theme throughout Kirk’s life has been his dual interest in computer programming and languages, two interests that many loglanists seem to share. When Kirk was still in his teens, he “pinned down” a number of languages (by which he means he obtained sufficient facility to read a newspaper for content, and carry on a conversation without internal translation). He “pinned down” Spanish during a trip to Mexico. He also had two years of French, which, in conjunction with travel in Canada, allowed him to “pin down” French in the 1950’s. He also took two years of German in college and got it “pinned down” during his stay in Germany in and after his military service. Also while in Europe, Kirk “pinned down” Italian.

To his regret, he has not quite “pinned down” Russian or Latin, two languages in which he had academic exposure. He wrote term papers in graduate school on the phonemics and morphemics of Bengali, although it also is not yet “pinned down.” Kirk took a private informal course in Mandarin Chinese, but has never really had enough experience in the language for it to stick.

While at the University of Chicago, Kirk came across a brochure giving the preamble of the United Nations Charter in the official languages plus Esperanto. Kirk obtained some learning materials, found Esperanto to be quite easy, and has used Esperanto in travelling in Europe...sometimes with people (Russian, Yugoslavian) with whom he shared no other language. So, Kirk says, constructed languages do work.

Kirk read Jim Brown’s original “Loglan” article in the Scientific American in 1960, and sent in for material from the Institute in response to the first SA advertisement in 1975. Kirk read through the third (1975) edition of Loglan 1 and was quite intrigued. But it was only in 1989, after he had retired, that he was able to devote a good deal of his attention to Loglan, for which all loglanists are richer.

Kirk believes that Loglan will continue to develop a loyal following among students of languages and computer enthusiasts. He foresees a great future for Steve Rice’s lesson book, and projects a slow increase in the stock of text in Loglan. Kirk is especially enthusiastic about the Loglan interactive parser. He recently read an article about a group of artificial language aficionados in England who are promulgating the constructed language Glossa, apparently a modified version of Lancelot Hogben’s Interglossa. They are trying to create a parser, but have been unsuccessful, since Glossa is clearly not a “logical” (syntactically unambiguous) language.

Kirk’s exposure to linguistics was pre-Chomskyian. Kirk has always looked askance at Chomsky’s theory that there is some form of grammar deeply embedded in the structure of the human mind. Kirk’s experience with designing compilers is that grammar is a very freewheeling concept. One does what one needs to manipulate a grammar to make it easily parsable and efficient. Almost anything goes in writing grammars, and there is certainly not one mystical, perfect, and universal human grammar.

Kirk enjoys music, and his wife Joanne is a pianist in a chorus. Kirk regularly attends her performances.

Copyright © 1994 by The Loglan Institute. All rights reserved.