I remember a young person who at 18, graduating from a prep school, had never heard the word “linguistics.” I doubt that such a person could still be found.
I remember a day when most linguists had no relationship to logic. No more.
I remember long decades when Greek prefixes like psycho-, then socio-, then bio-, then neuro- (and probably soon quantum) were not adjoined to the root ling.
I remember long years when sign, and interlanguages, and aphasia, were not considered serious fields of study.
I remember the day when some linguists thought that their work had nothing to learn from literature, music, dance, or visual and other forms of art, nor anything to teach artists of all kinds.
I have watched as tropes like metaphor, metonymy and even rarer ones came out of the closet—and when women’s languages, like women’s bodies, were widely thought to have no important differences from men’s.
Most incredibly, we remember when gay people, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, and perhaps dozens more types of stances toward sex were ashamed and feared, before their languages had come to be recognized and valued.
I remember the world’s first computers, and how arcane and difficult it was to communicate with them (yards of wide paper)—and the pioneers on both coasts who worked with electrical and chemical engineers, and material scientists, and people from the military, and gave us a dangerously beautiful web (and who would have thought that Dick Tracy’s wrist communicator would ever be for sale).
You know where I am going. You may not have worked on all of these interconnections, but your work, your rigor, your tradition of argument, your love of clarity, your understanding of the responsibility of intellectuals, and your breadth of mind, have made anyone over the age of six near an institution of learning who is not touched by the beauty and power of language a rare person.
For good or ill—and we will continue to debate this proposition for perhaps many centuries yet—some of the strongest chains of argument will come from the gigantic stretching of our minds, which will bring us to see language where we never expected to meet it.
Your work has had the same kind of explosive expansion of imagination as was brought to the world by print.
Not everyone whose life has been touched by the central metaphor of language has had the great good fortune to study with you. We who have honor and thank you.