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Mamoru Saito

Published onApr 19, 2019
Mamoru Saito

Dear Noam,

Congratulations on your 90th birthday! I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all the inspirations you have given me over the last 42 years. I wrote in the acknowledgments of my 1985 dissertation that I could not help wondering how I got the privilege to work with you as a graduate student. That was only the beginning. I kept being inspired by your lectures and writings on linguistics, philosophy and politics continuously and more than ever in the last ten years.

For syntax, the first lectures of yours that I attended were on the LGB. These were so exciting: I remember thinking that what you stated in the first chapter of Aspects is taking a concrete shape. The turn to Minimalism and the subsequent developments have made me feel proud to be a linguist. They show so clearly that sincere pursuit of ‘why-questions’ leads to radical developments in syntax just as in physics. It is amazing that I could see these developments in front of my eyes and even play a (very) small part in them. I cannot thank you enough for this.

I have always been interested in your political thoughts. But I think I started understanding their foundation and roots at a deeper level only in the last ten years. As you say, linguistics tries to discover what kind of biological creatures we are. The humanism on which your political activities are based, I think, comes from your firm conviction that each individual is entitled to realize her/his potential, given as biological endowment, in the best way. It is hard to say how much inspiration I received from listening to you on YouTube videos, from your debate with Foucault a long time ago to your recent commentary on Venezuela. As a teenager I was most interested in classical liberalism (in a broad sense) that focuses on individual potentials, including that of Rousseau and early Marx. I feel that I am finally realizing the connection between you and them.

In our student days, you and Morris were so good at encouraging us. There were several memorable appointments with you, including the one that led to my 1984 paper with Howard on the ECP, which showed me how to develop ideas. Let me remind you of another one. When I asked you to read my paper during my first year, you always returned the paper to me with kind comments. In one appointment in my second year, your tone changed. You provided many criticisms on my proposal and told me about various alternative possibilities, which I appreciated but made me think that I have a long way to go. Then, at the end of the appointment, you said, with my paper in your hands and with a big smile, “Can I keep this?” Nothing could be more encouraging than that for me at the time, and I still remember the scene vividly. Congratulations again on your 90th.

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