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Idan Landau

Published onApr 22, 2019
Idan Landau

I truly love syntax. I truly feel that understanding syntax is the greatest intellectual adventure of my life. I dare say not a single day passes without this thought crossing my mind, at least making itself felt in some way. Not often enough I also remind myself that none of this would have been possible without Noam's work and personality. Syntax as a serious topic of scientific study, syntax as an inquiry into something that is true, syntax as an adventure, did not exist prior to Noam's work. Every time I find myself astonished at a new syntactic revelation I have to remind myself how non-trivial it is that we can all appreciate and study it. It's as if a whole hidden universe was waiting there in the dark for 2,000 years, dormant and passive and unknown, which suddenly came to view with generative grammar. Noam opened the lid for us.

I owe Noam my love for syntax, whatever modest debating abilities I have learned from his endless fights with philosophers and linguists, and many aspects of my intellectual style. I owe him much more than that in the realm of ethics and responsibility - both for my ideas and especially for my actions. My conversations with him always mixed linguistics and politics, and I was constantly amazed at how detailed and nuanced his understanding was of the internal politics in Israel, as well as his knowledge of the history of Zionism.

Thank you, Noam, for casually remarking to me that I should work on the "famous" sentence, "The chicken is ready to eat", in which the psychological reading of "ready" curiously aligns with binding of the subject gap, and the non-psychological reading aligns with binding of the object gap, but not vice versa (a puzzle that formed the basis for chapter 4 of my PhD dissertation). It turned out the sentence was not "famous" at all, so I concluded it was "famous" in Noam's mind, that endless well of bubbling facts and ideas.

Thank you, Noam, for writing that supportive email to me after my first imprisonment as a conscientious objector in 2001. Typically, you talked about "inspiring many others", which is just what any act that's worth its name, academic or political, should do.

Thank you, Noam, for stopping me unexpectedly one day in the corridor to ask me about some Hebrew words that bothered you, specifically two synonymous words, 'tipshi' and 'metupash', both of which mean "silly", pressing me to tell you what's the difference between them (true synonyms don't exist, we know). I didn't know then and I still don't; the question has bugged me for 20 years now, but I promise to come up with an answer to your 100th birthday.

To me, you are a model of a fearless mind and a caring heart. I try to live up to this model every day.

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