I am writing to thank you both for being my teacher at MIT but also to thank you for being a friend and colleague from the day I arrived. Here is some of what I recall.
We first met when you were working in Vic Ingve’s lab after I was accepted. You stopped working, and we had a long conversation about what you were doing and what my interests were and what I expected from MIT. My sense was that you were interested in who this new student was.
The six first-year students had a regularly scheduled weekly meeting where we could present our latest “findings.” I recall one day presenting my finest effort only to have it gently demolished. But, then you made several suggestions, permitting me to reconstruct the idea into a far more interesting project.
One day when walking to Harkness Pavilion for lunch, you asked if I wanted to join you and several other faculty and students for lunch. This became a frequent thing in which you and other faculty would argue politics (but never linguistics), once debating whether the art in the Zurich museum basement should be liberated. It was revelatory to see the non-linguistic side of you and your fellow faculty. I don’t recall the students ever speaking except to say “Please pass the salt”
When I presented my dissertation topic to you, you listened, and then offered that it might take many years to complete. But then, you suggested a far more realistic topic, one I worked on and turned into a book.
During my first LSA meeting in New York I was pinned down by some established older linguists who were challenging me on several points. At that time, you and Zellig Harris walked by. I turned and said, “Help,” to which you responded, “Show them your mettle,” and continued walking.
Finally, at one our faculty-student Saturday pick-up basketball games, you and I ran after a loose ball, coming upon it at the same time. As you picked up the ball, you said, “Please call me Noam.”
Those are a few of the memories I recall of you as a scholar and colleague. Thank you.
My best regards,