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Susan Fischer

CUNY Graduate Center; Emerita, Rochester Institute of Technology

Published onApr 19, 2019
Susan Fischer

I have two vivid memories of Noam from graduate school:

My first semester I took Noam’s syntax course (at that time I called him Professor Chomsky; only the students who knew him from politics rather than linguistics called him Noam). At the end of the semester, he asked to meet to discuss my term paper. I went at noon one day, and his secretary brought him his lunch. I told him to go ahead and eat, but he refused, saying “oh no, politeness demands.”

Ken Hale was my dissertation advisor, but he thought it would be a good idea to have Noam on my committee. I never met with Noam to discuss my dissertation. Part of my analysis, I thought, depended on a systematic ambiguity between two readings for one construction. At my defense, a new faculty member challenged my assertion of that ambiguity. I thought I was done for, but Noam stood up, waved his hands, and said, “All her arguments go through anyway,” and the new faculty member didn’t say another word. To this day I’m not convinced that Noam actually read my dissertation, but it was a relief to have him in my corner.

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