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Wei-Tien Dylan Tsai

Tribute for Noam’s 90th

Published onApr 19, 2019
Wei-Tien Dylan Tsai
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Tribute for Noam’s 90th

As a linguistics student from a small island on the opposite side of the earth, I was in awe when I first attended Noam’s syntax seminar at MIT. While there were only six of us in the first year (hence formally registered for the seminar), there were hundreds of scholars from all over the world, overcrowding the huge classroom. Most importantly, that is where and when the minimalism program began. To this day I still convey to my students (namely, Noam’s “grandstudents”) how much this period of time changed my life and career, and how proud I am to be a witness of this historical event of great importance.

By contrast, I was a total stranger to the political side of Noam’s scholarship and influence before graduation. Only after watching his public lecture videos on YouTube did I understand the true responsibility of an intellectual, as well as the integrity we will need to take it to the end. I was also fascinated by the fact that Noam analyzes politics just like he analyzes a sentence, which really opened my eyes. This came to a full-blown enlightenment when he visited Taiwan and Mainland China in 2010. Even those who are steadfastly against the cause of generative syntax could not refrain from admiring his political views (including calling the Taiwan government a henchman of the US). I think Noam enjoyed the trip quite a bit (in particular, with a bicycle joyride on the ancient city wall of Xi’an), but the real important thing is that he set a fine example for all of us here to follow.

Finally, I would like to thank Noam for the kind guidance during the writing of my thesis, as well as his liberal and honest attitude toward everyone, with which I have learnt to treat my students and colleagues over the years.

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