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David Pesetsky

Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, MIT

Published onApr 19, 2019
David Pesetsky

Dear Noam,

On the occasion of your 90th birthday, I can’t help thinking of the numerous mistakes you have made over the past nine decades. To mention just ten:

  1. Inventing a notation for example sentences according to which “(*X)” (star inside parentheses) means that X is impossible, while “*(X)” (parentheses inside star) means that X is obligatory (“On Binding,” footnote 5). Conceptually elegant though the second convention may be, it is virtually impossible for a human linguist to parse this notation without pausing for ten seconds to remember how it works. Worse, it is entirely unusable at the left edge of an example sentence, where it becomes ambiguous between “acceptable only if X is included” from “unacceptable even if X is included.”—Unless you mark the scope of the asterisk with braces or some other device, but . . . like . . . we’re going to do that?

  2. Calling the complement set of A-positions “A-bar positions” when X-bar theory was still a thing and the “bar” in “A-bar” had nothing to do with X-bar theory (Lectures on Government and Binding, p. 47).

  3. Numbering two different transformations “21” in Syntactic Structures.

  4. Calling me “Dave” in class in the early 1980s. I mean, who calls me Dave?

  5. In “Conditions on Transformations,” using the label S̄ for S, and S for S̄.

  6. Using the name “anaphoric index” in “On Binding” for the index that does not go on anaphors.

  7. Calling it the Extended Projection Principle.

  8. Not realizing that the unknown person you were criticizing in class for not understanding Holmberg’s Generalization was Anders Holmberg.

  9. Calling it the Extended Projection Principle.

  10. Calling it the Extended Projection Principle.

But then I think about the rest —

  1. Posing questions about language, mind, and humanity itself that no one had ever posed before but seemed both obvious and urgent once you posed them;

  2. Showing us how these questions might be answered . . .

  3. . . . . and as often as not, actually answering them!

  4. Making linguistics the most exciting field in the world;

  5. Being a unique and uniquely supportive teacher, advisor, and colleague . . .

  6. . . . . in the glorious department that you created with Morris;

  7. Working tirelessly, day and night, on behalf of your students, your colleagues, the field . . .

  8. . . . . and the world;

  9. and so much more;

  10. and so much more.

—and all is forgiven. Ninety extraordinary years, and looking forward to more.


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