Fonds 1139 - J.K. Chambers fonds

Identity area

Reference code

UTA 1139


J.K. Chambers fonds


  • 1957-2019 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

4.55 m of textual and photographic records; sound and moving
image recordings (35 boxes)

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

John Kenneth (Jack) Chambers was born in Grimsby, Ontario July 12, 1938. He received his undergraduate university education at the University of Windsor (B.A. Honours English, 1961) and his M.A. in English from Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario in 1962. After just one term at the University of Minnesota, where he took his first linguistics course while enrolled in their Ph.D. programme in English, he returned to Canada. Following graduation he received a Diploma in Education and taught at high schools in London and East Elgin, Ontario. In 1967 he entered the Ph.D. programme in General Linguistics at the University of Alberta where he completed a thesis on “Focused Noun Phrases in English Syntax” in 1970. In July 1970 he accepted an appointment as Assistant Professor of Linguistics in the Centre for Linguistic Studies at the University of Toronto. He chose U. of T. over offers from Carleton University and the University of Minnesota. The Centre for Linguistic Studies had a graduate programme and he, along with Ed Burstynsky, were the only other Canadian-born linguists on staff. The Centre, which had been established in 1966, became the Department of Linguistic Studies in 1974. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1976, and to full Professor July 1, 1982. In 2005 he was appointed Professor Emeritus and in 2012 was recognized for 40 years of service.

At the University of Toronto Prof. Chambers has been actively involved in administrative, academic and research activities. He has participated in many departmental committees dealing with curriculum, admissions, promotions and tenure, as well as chair of the Visiting Lectures committee and 30th anniversary celebrations with Keren Rice. From 1986 to 1999 he was Chair of the Department, and acting Chair for six months in 2006. At the University level he was member of many search committees for departments and divisions at Scarborough and Mississauga campuses.

Prof. Chambers was the Centre’s first syntax professor and a proponent of generative semantics. The model fell out of favour in the discipline with the theoretical shift toward Noam Chomsky’s EST model. Since he was not interested in Chomsky’s model, Prof. Chambers began nurturing an interest in sociolinguistics and dialectology. It was during this time that he taught the ‘first-ever course’ in Canadian English. He has (and continues) to teach courses in linguistics and related disciplines such as sociology, anthropology and Canadian English. From 1999 to 2001 he taught the course Jazz Century (HUM199Y). A popular teacher, he received the Faculty of Arts and Science Outstanding Teacher Award in 1999. He also held many appointments as Visiting Professor at universities in England, Europe, South Africa, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the United States between 1990 and 2007. In 2008 he was visiting professor at University of Cape Town, South Africa and in 2011 Lansdowne Fellow in Linguistics at the University of Victoria. In 2012 he was named/served as CRiLLS Distinguished Professor at Newcastle University in the U.K.

Since the mid 1960s, Prof. Chambers has published extensively in the field of linguistics, with more than 200 articles and reviews, as well as 9 books either as editor, co-author or sole author. He has also been editor (and interim editor) of The Canadian Journal of Linguistics/La Revue canadienne de linguistique (volumes 19, 24 to 28). A major research project since 1990 has been the Dialect Topography project since “Canada was one of the few nations in the world without a databank or linguistic survey of accents and dialects.”[1] In 2008, he was honoured for his contributions to the discipline through the publication of All the Things You Are: A Festschrift in honour of Jack Chambers (Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 27). In 2010, he was awarded the first National Achievement Award by the Canadian Linguistic Association for his outstanding contributions to the field of linguistics in general and to Canadian linguistics in particular. In the same year he was named a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

During his career with the University of Toronto, Prof. Chambers has also actively pursued his other ‘avocation’, jazz. His jazz writing predates his work in linguistics, having published his first article in 1963. This has been manifested in the course mentioned above, and in numerous published articles and several books on prominent figures in the history of jazz such as Miles Davis, and Richard Twardzik. He also is a frequent contributor to Coda magazine. When asked in 2005 about the connection between language and music he stated:

Both have syntax and phonology, and if I am good at talking about them it is because I can use the same analytic skills on both. Linguistic structure is, of course, hard-wired and irrepressibly human. Musical structure is not hard-wired but learned, and learned with great effort for the greatest practitioners. But it is also uniquely human, and I suspect that it takes its form by spinning off our language faculty, like a kind of satellite. And jazz is especially language-like, because musicians use the syntax and phonology to construct motifs (phrases and sentences) and melodies (discourses) that no one has ever heard before, and they do it spontaneously, just as speakers do in ordinary conversation, except that at its very best it is more like a poem than like ordinary conversation. And how they do it, no one knows. Every three-year-old can do that with language. But only the most gifted musicians can do it in music. [2]

Another specialized area for Prof. Chambers that has evolved from his academic work in linguistics has been forensic linguistics and consulting, an activity dating to the early 1970s. One of the earliest cases involved his role as expert witness on the language of pornography at obscenity trials in 1973. Since then he has testified and/or consulted on dozens of criminal and civil court cases, including cases related to Indigenous land claims. In addition he has prepared numerous affidavits relating to cases under the Trademarks Act for companies such as Coca Cola.

Prof. Chambers continues to live and work in Toronto.


[1] [Canadian English in the Global Context--Tribute to Jack Chambers. “A conversation with Jack Chambers” by Catherine Macdonald.] (
[2] [An interview with Prof. Chambers excerpted from Christine Berger, Dialect Topography of Canada: Method, Coverage, Interface and Analyses. M.A. thesis. University of Vienna. November 2005.] (

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Content and structure area

Scope and content

The fonds is arranged and described in ten series documenting Jack Chambers’ 50 year career as professor of linguistics, primarily at the University of Toronto, and his external activities as a forensic linguist, consultant and his passion for jazz. Series 1 contains personal records relating to his appointment, salary, and annual activity reports as a member of the faculty of the University of Toronto’s Centre (and later Department) of Linguistic Studies and also includes some personal correspondence. Series 2 relates to his administrative activities in the Department and the University. Correspondence is included in Series 3 and 4. Series 3 contains letters of reference and evaluation for students and colleagues. Series 4 contains more general correspondence with colleagues within and outside the University in the field of linguistics, with some correspondence predating his arrival at the University of Toronto. Series 5, Jazz, contains files of correspondence, manuscripts, research, reviews, evaluations and other records documenting his special interest in this subject. Series 6 documents his teaching activities and contains course files, examination questions and tests as well as student evaluations for some of the courses he has taught and correspondence with former students. Series 7, Consulting, contains files relating to his activities as a forensic linguistic and consultant in criminal and civil court cases, as well as written testimony for Trademark cases. Records relating to his publication activities will be found in Series 8 and 9. The majority of the files of articles (published and unpublished) relate to academic writings in the field of linguistics. Series 9, Books, contain manuscripts and correspondence documenting his books on two jazz musicians (Miles Davis and Richard Twardzik), and one unpublished novel. There are no manuscripts for his books written or co-written on the field of linguistics. The final series, Series 10, documents a 10 year research project on Dialect Topography on various Canadian regions.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


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Restricted. See Series descriptions for details.

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Language of material

  • English

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Finding aids

Uploaded finding aid

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Notes area


This fonds consists of one accession received in 2009 and a subsequent accession received in 2019.

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Dates of creation revision deletion

-Original finding aid by Garron Wells, December 2010, updated by Louise Curtis, May 2022
-Added to AtoM by Karen Suurtamm, April 2016, updated by Louise Curtis, May 2022


  • English



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