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Daniel Harbour

Published onApr 19, 2019
Daniel Harbour

Dear Noam,

At school, I had three loves: languages, mathematics, and music. I still remember the moment when, driving down a steep Sydney hill, my father mentioned your and Greenberg’s work to me. I pressed him for more details, but he didn’t have any. Instead, he persuaded me to apply to Oxford, where I met Jim Higginbotham, who one day returned from a trip to Cambridge and reported that “I’ve discussed you with Noam”—I was struck by his use of your first name, as he usually called you Chomsky—“and you should apply to MIT.”

You were immediately and always warm as a person but you never played soft for the newbies. Ideas were ideas and were to be held to unflinching standards. To a Sydney-sider, it was like surfing: you can’t ask for small waves, the ocean just comes at you.

Thanks to your work—a vastly inappropriate word for the volume, rigour, and imaginativeness of your output—and to the community of researchers who have built up around it—especially, for me, early on, Jim, Ken, Morris, and Alec—I have an endlessly engaging, ever fascinating career that combines two of my childhood loves. Some days, I hum while I work and that combines all three.

With heart-felt thanks and sincerest best wishes on your ninetieth birthday,


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