Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Stephen R. Anderson

Published onApr 19, 2019
Stephen R. Anderson

As a student in the program at MIT, I was mostly working on issues in phonology, and since this was the period (late 1960s) when Noam was becoming much more focused on syntax than on phonology, we didn’t interact a great deal. One incident does strike me, though, as a case where his help was invaluable. Indeed, I might not have finished the dissertation I did without it.

I was working on the principle that just because we could find evidence that phonological rules had to apply in a sequence, it didn’t follow that the ordering relation over these rules was necessarily a linear one. I had developed examples that seemed to show that the sequence of rule applications in a particular language might violate all of the conditions of irreflexivity, antisymmetry, and transitivity, conditions that define a linear ordering in mathematics. Morris, with whom I was working, was having none of it, and kept trying to persuade me of the error of my ways. One day he decided I needed to be brought into line: “Let’s go see what Noam thinks about this.” It was clear that I was being taken into the principal’s office.

So we went next door, where Noam was in, and Morris had me present my examples and the conclusions I wanted to draw from them, while he sat on the side waiting for me to get my comeuppance. After thinking about it for a bit, though, Noam’s reaction was “Yeah, that sounds right,” to Morris’s visible consternation. Noam did point out that I was making a mistake in describing the state of affairs I was arguing for as a “partial ordering,” and suggested instead that I call it a “local ordering,” which I did from then on. I thus owe the label associated with my work in phonology to him, but more importantly, I think, I owe Noam for effectively giving encouragement for me to follow out my ideas, even when those were somewhat incompatible with his own work.


No comments here

Why not start the discussion?