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- John Rupert Firth, founder of the London School and head of the Department of General Linguistics at University College of London, was the primary influence on Hassan’s career as a linguist. Hassan studied under and worked with Firth at the University College London for six years. While there, he worked under Firth in phonetics, and wrote his master’s dissertation on the phonetics of his home town, ElKarank (Upper Egypt). His Ph.D. work was with the Yemen dialect of Arabic.
As a student of Firth, Hassan was exposed to many of his new ideas about linguistics and how to approach its study. Polysystematism was one such idea. David Crystal describes the idea of polysystematism in this way: "the patterns of language that appear at a particular level of description cannot be explained using a single analytic system. Different systems may need to be set up at different places, in order to handle the range of contrasts involved" (Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language). This would help him deal with the intricacies of describing the tense and aspect system of Arabic later in his career. Another main concept Firth put forth in his lectures and writings was the idea that context of situation should be taken into account when it comes to linguistic analysis. To analyze Arabic would be impossible without involving its context, since context and pragmatics play a huge role in even choosing which words to infer to complete a sentence logically. Firth was a structuralist, but not in the American sense, which diverged from its European roots. He was a structuralist because he believed language to be a system of parts or units that are completely dependent on one another and defined by their relationship to the other parts. In fact, the techniques of structural analysis were later carried over to the analysis of meanings, paving the way for a structurally oriented theory of semantics" (Encyclopedia of Language: Structuralism). His structuralism included a functional view, regarding the meaning of an utterance as dependent on its goals for communication and the context in which it is spoken.