Geoffrey Lewis

By Geoffrey Alderman, May 2, 2008

Born London, June 19, 1920.
Died Oxford, February 21, 2008, aged 87.

A pioneer of the study of Turkish language and literature in this country, Professor Geoffrey Lewis was almost single-handedly responsible for its introduction to the University of Oxford, writes Geoffrey Alderman.

After University College School, London, he read classics at Oxford, which sparked his interest in Turkish. In the Second World War he served in the RAF, in radar. Returning to Oxford, he gained a first in Arabic and Persian in 1947.

Three years later he gained his DPhil and was appointed the university’s first lecturer in Turkish. In 1960 he was elected fellow of St. Anthony’s College, and in 1986 became Oxford’s first and, to date, only professor of Turkish studies.

His Teach Yourself Turkish, first published in 1953, is still regarded as the authoritative introduction to the language, and his Turkish Grammar (1967) as a standard work. His wider cultural study, Introduction to Turkey (1955) is still regarded as a masterpiece.

His defence of Ottoman empire voc-abulary did not prevent him receiving numerous honours from the Turkish republic. His promotion of friendship between the UK and Turkey was recognised with the appointment of CMG in 1990. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1979 and was president of the Anglo-Turkish Society from 2003.

In 1941 he married Raphaela Bale-Seideman, subsequently an avid student of Turkish life and author of a monograph. The Lewis’s befriended Jewish students at Oxford. Geoffrey was active in Oxford B’nai B’rith and its president in 1989. A close friend of Oxford Jewish scholar Cecil Roth, he researched with him on the 17th-century false messiah, Turkish-born Shabbatai Zevi.

After their daughter, Lalage’s, death in 1976, the couple helped bring up her two children. Raphaela died in 2004. Geoffrey is survived by a son, Jonathan, four grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Last updated: 4:41pm, September 23 2009