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A tribute to Professor Stephen Bax (1960 – 2017)


Stephen joined the Open University as professor of modern languages and linguistics in 2015 and took on the role of director for research excellence in August 2016.

Stephen came to the OU from the University of Bedfordshire and its Centre for Research in English Language Learning and Assessment, where he held the position of reader in English Language, learning, assessment and technology from 2009 to 2012. He was then made professor of applied linguistics and deputy director from 2012 to 2015.

Previously, he was principal lecturer and senior lecturer in applied linguistics at Canterbury Christ Church University between 1993 and 2009.

Stephen held a PhD from the University of Kent on intertextual reference and reading, and also a MLitt and MSc in applied linguistics from the University of Edinburgh. He was a trained teacher for English with a PGCE from the University of North Wales, Bangor, and a qualified Arabic translator. As an undergraduate, he read English at Peterhouse at the University of Cambridge.


Stephen was an internationally recognised researcher in the area of technology for language learning, especially in Computer Assisted Language Learning and Computer Assisted Language Testing.
In June 2017, he was awarded an ELTon Award for Digital Innovation for his work on TextInspector.com. This is an online tool that can automatically analyse the difficulty of a written text and benchmark it against the Common European Framework of Reference for languages.

His seminal article on eye tracking in reading and reading tests, published in 2013, won him the TESOL Distinguished Research Award in 2014.
His prize winning article, ‘CALL, Past, Present and Future’ (2003) remains an important reference to this day.

His wide-ranging linguistic interests also included researching the Voynich manuscript – a manuscript that was carbon dated to the 1420s and rediscovered in 1912 but which is still undeciphered. Whether it represents an actual language, a hoax or something written in code remains a mystery.

Stephen started teaching languages in 1981 as an English language teacher in Sudan. He studied Arabic in Syria in 1983, and also worked in Algeria in the same year as part of his teacher training. Having obtained his PGCE in TEFL/TESL in 1985, he went on to work for the British Council in Iraq for three years. He also had considerable experience in working in Asia and Latin America. He was a fluent speaker of both Arabic and Spanish.

We admire his enthusiastic support and mentoring of colleagues and his valued contributions to the study of languages and applied linguistics will be greatly missed. Our thoughts go to his wife, Paloma, and children, Andrew Elena and Michael, to whom we offer our most sincere condolences.

By Dr Nathaniel Owen, School of Languages and Applied Linguistics, Open University.