September 15, 2005

Reminiscences on a theme by Emeneau

With the recent death of Murray B. Emeneau, at age 101, an era in the history of the Linguistic Society of America has come to an end, and there probably won't be another time like it.  The thing is, Emeneau was president of the LSA in 1949, and if you look at the roster of presidents, you have to go almost twenty years ahead to find a president who is still alive: Gene Nida, president in 1968.

As it happens, Emeneau's presidency represents a personal LSA watershed for me: from Emeneau on, I have met every president of the society.  Linguistics is a small field.

You'll already have noticed that this posting is really about me me me, not Murray Emeneau, who merely presented me with an occasion for reminiscing.  You get a Medicare card, you start thinking about the past.

Emeneau wasn't the first person on the presidential roster that I've met.  That would be Hans Kurath (1942, an even fifty years before I myself was president; I was still in diapers in 1942).  Then Y. R. Chao (1945), Adelaide Hahn (1946), and the unbroken string that begins with Emeneau, who was president when I was in the fourth grade.  As the author of the elegant booklet Sanskrit Sandhi and Exercises (1st ed. 1952, rev. ed. 1958, the year I graduated from high school), Emeneau even played a significant role in my academic life, showing me how central organizing principles could be extracted from a mass of very complex data (which I then bashed at in my Ph.D. dissertation).

But why do I say that we're unlikely to see another almost-twenty-year run like Emeneau's?  First, there's the extraordinary longevity of people like Kurath, Chao, and Emeneau.  More important, though, is the fact that many of the early presidents of the LSA (Emeneau among them) were in their 40s when they took office -- young adulthood in today's academic world.  These days, presidents are in their 50s and 60s.  (Henry Kahane (1984), who had surely one of the most active academic retirements in history, was in his 80s.)  In any case, there are a lot more linguists now than there were then, and many more excellent candidates for the office, so their age at taking office is going to creep up.

In any case, after Emeneau in 1949 we soon come to linguists who were my teachers: Roman Jakobson (1956), Henry Hoenigswald (1958, the year before he taught me my second course in linguistics), and my dissertation adviser, Morris Halle (1974).

And to people who eventually were my colleagues at one or another of my three institutions: Charles Ferguson (1970), Joe Greenberg (1977), Ilse Lehiste (1980), Henry Kahane (1984), Elizabeth Traugott (1987), Charles Fillmore (1991), and Joan Bresnan (1999).  The list begins to include personal friends like Dwight Bolinger (1972), Lehiste, Kahane, Vicki Fromkin (1985), Traugott, Fillmore, and many more.

With Barbara Partee (1986) the list begins to include people I went to graduate school with: Jim McCawley (1996), Terry Langendoen (1998), David Perlmutter (2000).  And then people who were graduate students at MIT after I left: Janet Fodor (1997), Bresnan, Ray Jackendoff (2003), and Mark Aronoff (2005).

Finally, inevitably, we come to an LSA president who took courses from me: Fritz Newmeyer (2002).  Now, all I have to do is live long enough for a "grand-student" (someone who took courses from someone who took courses from me) to assume the presidency.  That would be very pleasing.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at September 15, 2005 07:43 PM