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John Goldsmith

Published onApr 19, 2019
John Goldsmith

Dear Noam,

Your passionate engagement in both politics and linguistics has set the standard in many ways for how I and so many friends and colleagues of my generation understand the world we live in. I heard you speak at the Straight at Cornell in 1969, at a time of student unrest, and felt that you articulated for me what I at the time could not, at a moment in which the government in Washington was asking me to sign up for the draft, most likely to send me to Vietnam. That day at Cornell, SDS was selling reprints of “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” and a few other papers that I took home with me. Don’t give the benefit of the doubt to the people bringing you a war in Southeast Asia, you seemed to be saying; the risk, the danger is far too great. Do your due diligence, it’s your job as a citizen: read, challenge, and say no when no is the only possible moral response to the policies coming from Washington.

Then when I graduated from college, I only applied to one graduate school, thinking I’d like to learn from you if my roll of the dice went the right way, and my luck held.

Interacting with you when I was a student in the early 1970s was an educational experience unlike any other I’ve had. I remember that you and Morris refused to accept the qualifying paper I had written in my second year on phonology, and you asked me to work on it for another six months. That turned out to be excellent advice in retrospect, unwelcome though it might have been at the time.

There aren’t many teachers who succeed in explaining their ideas both in person and through the written word. Franz Brentano was a charismatic philosopher who left the same deep impression on his students that you have on yours, but he did not leave a written legacy in the way that you have as well.

I wish you many healthy birthdays over the years to come.

Warm regards,


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