Memories of Morris

Please leave your memories of Morris here— things you suddenly remember, stories you tell, his influence on you and your life. If you have a picture of Morris you would like to share, please upload the picture to our dropbox.

 

2018-09-12T15:32:58+00:00

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  1. Carson T. Schütze May 13, 2018 at 10:52 pm

    I was walking back from a phonology job talk with Morris once, after the candidate had made some claims about (non)existing patterns of English words. In the question period Morris had pointed out numerous exceptions to the proposed generalizations, for which the candidate had no response. Afterwards when I asked Morris for his impressions, he growled “You know, science is supposed to be cumulative.” 🙂

  2. Ray C Dougherty May 13, 2018 at 3:50 pm

    On Saturday night of my second week at MIT, my father died. Nervously, I called Morris at his home after midnight to say I was going to see my mother in Altoona, Pennsylvania and would remain until her affairs settled down. Challenges awaited me. My mother wanted my father buried in her church cemetery where she would eventually rest. My parents subscribed to different faiths. Both families worried: Can a Catholic soul get to heaven from a Protestant cemetery? Stumbling in my soup of thoughts, I mentioned this perplexity to Morris. He talked to me quite a while. Two sentences stuck with me. You only get one mother. And: When facing one of life’s pivot points, never accept a quick fix. His advice included words like ‘forgive’, ‘forget’, ‘let bygones be bygones’… My thoughts often return to this brief phone call which calmed me considerably and led me to reject any quick fix when one of life’s pivot points threw me reeling.

    Upon my return to MIT in November, Morris had me visit him four times, each for an hour during which he gave my cognitive capacities concentrated injections of Sound Pattern of English. Syntactic Structures had been discussed by professors in several courses taken during my MS in EE studies on symbol and signal processing. So, syntax had no alien quality until I heard Noam and Haj talk about it. Morris’ hard hitting condensed presentation, intensively delivered one on one, in his hunched leaning-forward eyeball to eyeball style, served as my first introduction to MIT generative phonology. The theories and formal solutions made a lot of sense, but one thing remained puzzling. Why do all this shuffling of + and – on features tacked to the vocal tract? The mouth seems optimized for dozens of ‘+/- crucial life functions’: eating, drinking, sneezing, snoring, and much more. Maybe not speech. Most of the calculations and operations made sense and seemed interesting, but my brain kept asking: What is the problem? Why is this a problem? Who cares? Phonology sometimes looked like a WPA project cooked up in the 19th century by out of work German and Russian professors.

    At the end of our four hours of concentrated SPE discussions, Morris asked me if anything seemed to define an unresolved problem. I said most everything made sense, but the ‘variables’ (he called them ‘features’), seemed arbitrary. Many birds and seals can ‘mimic’ human speech sounds with great accuracy and sound almost human. But the tooth-less, lip-less, thin-tongued parrot’s sound cannot yield to labels like ‘labial’ or ‘dental’. And the sharp-beaked palate-less parrot sports two independent sets of vocal cords to the human’s mere one. It seemed wrong to base the phonological features on phonetic features tied to human heads. Why not parrot heads? He did not like the question. I figured this out from his brief, terse, and pithy answer, and the speed with which I found myself bum’s rushed to the other side of his door. To this day I think the phonologic features have ‘acoustic phonetic’ definitions. I always pushed to have NYU start and maintain a strong ‘acoustic phonetic’ division.

    Six months later, talking to fellow students, and having read SPE, Morris’ SPE bouillon cube dissolved in my brain, and I saw the light. No wonder Darwin’s Origin mentions language sound change as a prime example of evolution through an integrated series of demonstrable small variations.

    After a year’s post-doc at MIT, I applied for a tenure track position in the Linguistics Department at New York University. The chair ushered me into the undergraduate dean’s office. The scene reminded me of Leopold Bloom entering the editor’s office in Dublin and being greeted by a bellowed: ‘KMRIA!’ I caught the shout: ‘Who is this guy Louis Kampf?!?!?!’. ‘What does he know about language?!?!’ I offered that Prof. Kampf taught philosophy and language at MIT. ‘What is he doing at the Modern Language Association?!?!?!’ I proudly volunteered that once I had given a paper there and perhaps he presented one too. The scowling dean – twisting and turning – hurriedly paced the tiny office. He hurled back harsh words and sentences containing ‘MLA’. No invectives. Quite gentlemanly. Far too weird to be disconcerting. More like bewildering. I was invited to leave and given my second academic bum’s rush.

    When I got back to MIT, Morris offered clarification. Basically, Noam and Louis had – in NYU dean-speak – ‘stormed the MLA annual meeting, took over the elections and put themselves into top offices’. A bloodless MIT coup! This led to the NYU dean (or a buddy) being kicked out of office. I had no idea about this stormy petrel in linguistics or knowledge of what mayhem the MIT Chomsky-led petrel-mongers had caused at the MLA. The dean offered me the lowest salary ever offered to any tenure track beginning professor at NYU. I jumped on it! Greenwich Village!!! I’d have summersaulted at half the offer. Bleecker Street! The Village Vanguard! Heaven! I racked up 50 years of academic and residential bliss.

    Morris offered some bits of advice for when I entered the NYU academic lion’s den. With hat in hand, one goes through the entire land. Build a network of competent friends you can collaborate with. Volunteer to proofread your co-workers papers in any discipline. To avoid my newly designed classes from being ‘kidnapped’ by related departments who taught similar subjects, always make the main textbook Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Steer clear of the MLA dean, he will disappear.

    After taming a few tigers at NYU, my wife and I moved into one of NYU’s faculty apartments on Bleecker Street. Morris visited, and we had a talky dinner. His advice, on this occasion as well as at many later meetings, usually did not focus on solving what I thought was my immediate problem, but rather on what caused the problem to occur. What variables seemed to me to define the perspective in which I saw my problems and possible solutions? When hit with a problem, stop and think: How and why did this problem arise? Recursively speaking: Often my perceived problem was not my real problem. My overt surface problem derived from some covert underlying problem.

    And, of course, avoid any quick fix answers. Focus on the source of the problem. Morris pointed out that many of the problems encountered at NYU, like the MLA-dean, seemed unreal to me, but they defined the very soul and existence of some people. What may seem unreal to you, often animates the spirit of another.

    Since 2009, I have been working to reformulate the studies of Alan Turing on his Universal Turing Machine into the notations and rule system offered in the Sound Pattern of English. Why? Turing labeled each Turing machine with an arbitrary integer. He only wanted to prove Turing machines could line up with the integers, and hence, the total number of Turing machines defines a countable infinity. This defines the crux of Turing’s argument.

    By recasting all of Turing’s and Kleene’s work into the mechanisms of SPE, which offers a principle-based ‘complexity evaluation metric’, each Turing machines could – via SPE methodology – be assigned a ‘complexity value’, which in fact accords with observation and intuitions. The SPE metric for defining and ranking complexity offered in ‘sound patterns’ matches precisely that for ‘Turing machines’. Why? An explanation underlies this description. The ‘match’ in computational complexity derives directly from the more basic ‘hardware complexity’ of human brains and peripherals like vocal tracts, ears and hands. Morris liked this explanation. He did not appreciate a possible abduction: Parrot and seal brains have different ‘peripherals’ but computational capacities quite similar to humans.

    Morris read my drafts diligently and during the times I visited him he provided much insight into how and why many of the formalisms of Shannon and Turing found their way into SPE. He had fantastic insight into how to make complex ideas presentable. He liked 3D color graphics and animations both as rhetorical and theoretical tools. I regret I did not work with Morris more on SPE while grinding towards a PhD at MIT in syntax. I should have tried harder. Perhaps I should have concentrated more on the great vowel shift and less on the articulatory prowess of parrots and seals.

    I started by talking about my parents and then moved to Morris. A natural shift. These three adults, far more than any others, defined my transition from youth to adult. Who I am, what I am and how I function in society owes more to these three minds than to anyone else, anything else, or any other experience. It is painful to say, ‘good-bye Morris’.

    With a heavy heart: ‘Good-bye Morris’, but a part of you will always remain with me both covert in my thinking and overt in my performance. One consolation. The many responses to the MIT website proves your wisdom resides in and animates many of the lives you touched however briefly.

  3. David Halitsky May 11, 2018 at 9:08 am

    Two short anecdotes illustrating just how quick he was.

    First – when I read his original 3-dimensional phonology paper, I mentioned to him that if we allow a projective “book” of pages as well as an “affine” book (with pages joined in the usual way at a real spline), then the pages would be parallel planes meeting in an “ideal” or “virtual” spline. He knew immediately what I meant – no need to explain.

    Second – some years later I mentioned to him what struck me as an odd coincidence – the fact that Greek reduplicated perfects (CVx => CV-CVx) can be (more-or-less)structurally described as a case of “Chomsky-adjunction”. Again, no need to explain anything – he immediately understood.

    I will miss the presence in this world of someone so quick, so acute, and possessed of so much intellectual “caritas”. I use the word “caritas” here in its old Thomistic sense – “love of God as instantiated in love for one’s fellow men”. I only wish that wherever he is, he will see how his original thoughts re stress and syntax will be taken in a new and profitable formal direction at the Syntactic Retina website (https://www.thesyntacticretina.com)

  4. Wayles Browne May 10, 2018 at 6:50 pm

    I was an undergrad at Harvard in linguistics and Slavic (class of ’63). A year or two before graduation, I met MIT students and even faculty coming to Roman Jakobson’s lectures at Harvard. One was Ted Lightner, and I think it was Ted who got me to spend spare minutes auditing classes down the road at MIT. Slavic, I saw, was appreciated there. Not only was Jakobson giving his own literary and linguistic lectures, but Morris Halle was bringing Slavic data into the mainstream of the new theory of phonology. I had applied the method of Jakobson’s (1948) “Russian Conjugation” to describing Belarusian, and realized that his article was a forerunner of the generative approach. I was lucky enough to start grad school at MIT in fall 1963. In late 1965 or early 1966 I said to Morris that I’d be interested in a teaching job somewhere. He took me seriously and recommended me first to Yale and then to Brown as a lecturer in Slavic linguistics. Teaching, it turned out, kept me busy enough that I made little progress on my Ph.D. thesis on the phonology and morphology of Serbo-Croatian accent. In the end I was a dropout–“Last matriculated 1968” say the alumni office’s files. But Morris did not take this amiss. He let me back in to the Research Lab of Electronics between two long stays in Yugoslavia, and one night in 1972 in Cambridge I got a sudden insight into Serbian and Croatian relative clauses that turned some years later into a Ph.D. thesis on syntax defended at the University of Zagreb.
    I’m grateful to everyone who spoke so warmly at the memorial last week, and to all who attended. I had not known about John Halle’s work on musical settings of texts, but it is very congenial to a linguist with an amateur appreciation of music.
    I’ve just been watching https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxs5h2Wjh5Y&index=15&list=PLcmboowdJsaMj22Jz2EIY8HG7W6jceoPv — Morris’s last paper that he gave, “On the morpho-phonology of the Latin verb.” Morris says near the beginning “You can’t follow this speech without the handout.” I can follow it only well enough to see that it is reminiscent of Jakobson’s long-ago treatment of Russian conjugation. If anyone has preserved a copy of the handout, it would be a good deed to scan it and put a link to it on this page. Gra:tia:s tibi ago:.

  5. Dan Kahn May 9, 2018 at 10:32 am

    I can only echo, based on my own experience, what so many others have already said about the depth of Professor Halle’s erudition, his dedication to the graduate program in linguistics, and his unique way of moving students along toward their goal.

    -Dan (DanKahn@verizon.net)

  6. Gary Milsark May 8, 2018 at 10:30 pm

    Here’s a rather silly but fond memory. In my first semester as a student, Morris had trouble remembering my name and usually called me Larry. One day we encountered each other walking in opposite directions in the 20C corridor. As we approached each other, he growled something like “How’s it going, Larry?” I responded “Fine, Horace, how’s with you?” He walked about two more paces, stopped dead, turned around, let out one of his roaring belly laughs, and never made the mistake again.

  7. Samuel Jay Keyser May 8, 2018 at 10:17 am

    Remarks on the occasion of the memorial service for Morris Halle Tang Center, Wong Auditorium, May 5, 2018, 2 PM.

    Good afternoon, everyone. It is my bittersweet privilege to preside over the remaining program: bitter because Morris is gone; sweet because, unlike Mark Antony’s Caesar, we have come to praise Morris and to remember him.

    I knew Morris for over half a century. In this company that is no distinction. Louis Kampf knew him for 60 years, Noam for 70 years. Sylvain Bromberger, whom you will hear from shortly, was even more fortunate.

    In fact, I knew Morris longer than I knew my own father. It is also true that I learned as much from him. My classroom was an unusual one. I lived in Needham in those days. On my way into MIT I would stop by Morris’s house, first on Langley Road and then on Waverley Avenue. In the evening, we drove home together. I learned more about language than I did in all my years in the Hall of Graduate Studies at Yale.

    Our friendship began in a hunter green 1972 Ford Torino. It deepened as the years went by. He was my closest friend. Over the course of our time together we shared some of life’s most indelible moments. I was sleeping on the third floor of the Waverley Avenue house —we had been working together and I stayed the night—when he knocked on the door at 2:30 in the morning to tell me that my father had died. I can still see his troubled figure in the doorway; the two most important men in my life, one telling me the other was gone.

    I remember helping Morris find a nursing home for Roz when it became impossible for the two of them to continue living together because of her infirmities. We found a place in Belmont. Every day, except when the weather made it impossible, Morris would visit her, walking to Harvard Square and taking the bus because he had decided to give up driving. Occasionally, I would accompany him. The three of us would go for a walk. Morris would push Roz’s wheelchair around the grounds keeping up a constant flow of conversation with her even though she was beyond answering.

    Morris once told me that he always thought of himself as living on borrowed time. To escape from Latvia his father had booked a flight to Finland. It was cancelled and they were forced to take a train to Russia. They hadn’t known the airport where they would have landed had been commandeered by the Nazis.

    That sense of borrowed time stayed with him his entire life. When the century turned, he told me that the biggest mistake he’d ever made was to think that he would be alive to see it happen. He had gone from not enough time to too much time. Why was that? A few years into retirement Morris told me that he never learned to veg out. The only thing he ever wanted to do was linguistics. He found it harder and harder to do that as time went on.

    I once asked him why he had chosen linguistics. He told me the reason was that he saw things that other people hadn’t and he was driven to write them down. I can’t think of a better illustration of that than a paper on the morpho-phonology of the Latin verb that he delivered at the 2013 NELS conference.

    While he was writing the paper, I would visit him regularly to talk about it. I was astonished at his mastery of the details of Latin verb morphology. It was as if he were a classical philologist. I was even more astonished at the beauty of his solution. It was, in typical Hallean fashion, a startlingly simple re-analysis of a morpho-phonological morass.

    That was the last paper he ever wrote. He was 89 years old. From then on, his interests focused on his family. Morris once told me that one of the greatest delights of his life was seeing that his three children, David, John and Tim, genuinely liked one another. That was a source of enormous comfort to him as, indeed, it will be to his sons. I would like to leave the boys with that thought.

  8. Malka Rappaport Hovav May 7, 2018 at 1:47 am

    I thank the organizers of the memorial event for making the event available to those of us who could not make it. After listening to the entire event, and hearing Noam’s closing remarks on how he and Morris shared an interest in Hebrew/Jewish literature and culture – including Kabbalistic texts, I am moved to share some of my cherished memories.

    Morris supervised my dissertation on aspects of Tiberian Hebrew phonology and morphology, but sitting in his office, we would often turn to other issues having to do with Old Testament literature (how often his legendary pad would, besides the derivations in Tiberian Hebrew we were discussing, be filled with texts from Psalms, including Psalm 137 that John mentioned, and other Psalms on which he would try his ideas out, including pictorial representations which he surmised the psalms encoded.). Many mentioned Morris’s incredible erudition which he displayed in a quiet and modest way. I was amazed at his knowledge and interest in Biblical texts, but also Jewish texts throughout the ages, and issues in Jewish history.

    In 1987 Tel Aviv University and the Van Leer institute in Jerusalem organized a large conference called “The Chomskian Turn.” Morris accepted the invitation to participate and this was his first (and I believe only his only) visit to Israel. I spent a lot of time with him on that trip, taking him around Jerusalem, which gave him an opportunity to speak Hebrew conversationally, which he did amazingly well. Before he left, he spent some time buying gifts for ppl back home, but for himself, he ordered the Encyclopedia Judaica and for me he bought a copy of the book by Gershom Scholem – the luminary of the study of Kabbalistic literature – on Shabbtai Zvi. We parted, not before Morris summarized for me what he thought the main lessons were to be learned from that dark chapter of Jewish history.

    Many have commented here on Morris’s deep and insightful commitment to his students. I finished my dissertation in January, and had a job lined up for September, but needed a way to support myself for the interim period. At that time the Center for Cognitive Science was setting up the Lexicon Project and Morris suggested to them that perhaps I be involved in the project for a few months. That involvement led to my collaboration with Beth Levin, and this influenced the course of my academic path from therein on. I am deeply grateful to Morris for his matchmaking efforts on this.

  9. Daniel Harbour May 6, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    I’ve written a long post on my blog. Here is the first paragraph and the titles of the “lessons”, followed by the link to the full piece.

    Morris Halle, my PhD co-supervisor, died on April 2. On April 26, I began a paper on long-distance allomorphy. It has quickly bloomed from its intended 500 words into something much longer and, as I craft the argument, I find myself in imaginary conversation with Morris about it. (“An appendix? Of course, you’ll need an appendix. It’s complex data. You have to lay it all out.”) With Morris’ memorial service today, and with me on the wrong side of the Atlantic, I want to say farewell to my teacher by summarising five lessons I learned from him. They map out our time together, from our first meeting at MIT (in late 1998 or early 1999) through my graduation (in June 2003) and into my life as a professional linguist.

    1. People don’t come with instruction manuals
    2. Papers don’t come with instruction manuals either
    3. Do wrong right
    4. The perfect example
    5. Curiosity

    https://daniel-harbour.blogspot.co.uk/2018/05/morris-im-memoriam.html

  10. John Goldsmith May 5, 2018 at 7:48 pm

    I was about to start: “There was something magical about Morris,” but I stopped myself; not because it was wrong, but because it so surprised me. Morris was magical like Dumbledore. He ran a shop for would-be wizards, and he had no problems with it being tough. He had a touch—let’s go ahead and call it a magical touch; it was the power to dub someone, which gave them the rights and responsibilities of a junior wizard. Study the genealogy of any discipline: the most striking generalization is that the leaders of one generation were the students of leaders in the previous generalization. Why? In some fashion which we all feel and none of us understand, that teacher recognizes something in us and dubs us. (I’m using that word “dub” because it’s the closest we have in English: in French it’s “adouber”, it’s what a king does to make a knight a knight). Morris had that magical power. Did he know this? He did, I think he knew it very well. I remember a story that a younger phonologist than me told me once, probably in the 1980s. They wanted to apply for a position at MIT, and Morris told them that they shouldn’t bother, because they were neither his student nor the student of one of his students. At the time it seemed odd, or maybe even callous, but having a few more years under my belt now, I see that remark quite differently.

    How did his teacher Roman dub Morris? I don’t know. How did Roman’s teacher Nikolai dub him? We can see some of how he did it in the letters that Nikolai wrote him, but those are feeble echoes of their time together.

    Morris was a shooting star within a great wave of central European Jews who came to the United States from the times of Edward Sapir and Leonard Bloomfield up to World War II. They brought a level of culture with them that was barely present here when they got here. It’s a big part of what has made American universities great. You don’t agree? Well then, argue with me!

  11. Marta Abrusan May 5, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    Unfortunately, I only knew Morris very little, I met with him a couple of times when I was writing my generals paper on some thorny aspect of the phonology of Hungarian. Two hours after our first meeting, I got an email from Morris with the subject line “Here is the solution to your problem”. The email contained a two page attachment working out his ideas. I did not agree with his solution, so I went back to meet with him again, and then again and again because it was a lot of fun (“This piece of data is like a loaded gun on the table in a Chekhov play. It has to fire by the end of the last act.”)

    I got a lot of good advice from Morris, about research and also to start exercising when I turn 60, but perhaps my fondest memory is his characteristic, liberating laughter.

  12. Richard Sproat May 5, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    During my first year at MIT I found Morris’s directness to be discouraging, but over the next few years I came to appreciate it. He was always honest and frank in his evaluation of others, but equally honest and frank in his evaluation of himself. He was not afraid to admit he was wrong, and he never tried to get out of such an admission by claiming that he really meant something else.

    One Morris quote that has stuck with me over the years: I don’t remember the year or the exact circumstances but Morris was giving me feedback on something I had written where evidently I had spent way too much time describing my personal reasons for coming to a particular conclusion. He enjoined me to “not confuse history and autobiography”.

    • Malka Rappaport Hovav May 6, 2018 at 11:57 am

      Yes, this is a lesson – not to include your intellectual history in the writing of a paper – which I take with me from Morris and pass on to my students to this day. The amazing thing is that this is not just a lesson in how to write a good academic paper. I have found that in distancing myself from the historical development of how I approach a particular problem, inevitably leads me to a clearer-minded formulation of the question I am addressing and the solution I am proposing.

      • David Pesetsky May 8, 2018 at 4:58 pm

        Malka — me too, exactly! And I *always* think of Morris at those moments.

  13. Bob Faraci May 5, 2018 at 12:02 pm

    My fondest memory of Morris involves the way he put me at ease when I met with him to take my qualifying exam. After I entered his office, he quickly closed the door, put his back up against it, spread his arms over the frame, and cackled maniacally. I can still recall his laugh, and the effect of his gesture was immediate. Over my years as a student in the Department and since he was my dissertation supervisor, I met with Morris individually on a number of occasions. He was always friendly, even avuncular, straightforward, open, challenging, and helpful. Although he was clearly aware of his eminence in the field, he was never condescending; and his manner conveyed unfailingly that I mattered to him personally. My memories of Morris will always carry a sense of the warmth of his presence.

  14. Susan Fischer May 5, 2018 at 2:27 am

    The transition from student to colleague is sometimes difficult to negotiate. My transition occurred in the following way: when I was at MIT,Chomsky was called Professor Chomsky, and Halle was called Professor Halle; the other professors were all called by their first names (Chomsky was called Noam by the political people but not by the linguistics students. A few weeks after I had turned in the final version of my dissertation, Morris came out to California where I was living. Yuki and I were going to put him up while he gave a talk at UCSD. Morris called ahead of time to give us his arrival time . When I answered the phone, he said “this is Morris”, thereby giving me permission to call him Morris. But I couldn’t bring myself to do that — yet. When he arrived, he informed me for some reason that he was going to be wearing red flannel pajamas that I guess were sort of like a jumpsuit i.e., one piece from neck to ankles. The next morning, I was making breakfast and he came into the kitchen to show me the pajamas. After that, it was easy to call him Morris.

    Since I was interested primarily in syntax and acquisition as a student, I didn’t have that many intellectual interactions with Morris. But afterwards, if when I was doing morphosyntax of ASL, I had a wonderful discussion with him, concerning the interaction between the valence of a predicate and the doubling of the predicate in order to accommodate more arguments than were permitted by the valence of a single instance of the predicate. He told me about a similar phenomenon in Georgian, I think it was.

    My last meaningful interaction with Morris occurred several years ago; both Yuki and Ross had died, and Morris was in an independent living situation in Cambridge. I went to visit him and we had lunch in the dining room, After which he walked me to Harvard Square; he was still going into the office a few days a week. I cherish the memory of that lunch, though I don’t remember what we talked about.

    • Susan Fischer May 5, 2018 at 2:08 pm

      Damn autocorrect: not Ross but Rosamund, and I forgot a parenthesis

  15. Ken Wexler May 4, 2018 at 11:47 pm

    Morris was immensely kind to me when I was visiting at MIT, thinking of accepting a position here. He invited me out, taught me the secrets of how to get around Harvard Square, and made me feel like a part of everything. I was comfortable; I think that leaned me in the direction of saying ok to a large move in my life to a place Sherry and I didn’t really know. When I later published some work in Language (with David Poeppel) on German syntactic and morphological development, Morris read it the second he received his copy of the journal and made a point of talking to me about it. I wasn’t used to people taking things so seriously, and it was impressive and heart-warming. He did these things as a matter of course; he cared about linguistic life and lives. Over the years, I learned much about how to think about morphology from Morris, always generous with his time and knowledge.

    When soon after we arrived at MIT there was a medical issue in my family, and I needed to find local advice about doctors, etc., Morris was the one I called with a question. And he had an answer, a faculty member in Biology who had experienced similar things.

    The most vivid memory though is from a small (motor?) boat going around Capri (during a conference), to the Blue Grotto. I believe Sherry and I, Morris and Roz, and the Chierchias were the only ones in the boat, though maybe there was an official boat handler. Morris was at the back of the boat (steering?), and broke into the most stirring and beautiful rendition of O Sole Mio. Could have been Pavarotti.

  16. K P Mohanan May 4, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    An ideal PhD program provides the experience is one of being born again, or of a mouse acquiring wings. It makes the mind able to do things it was not capable of prior to the metamorphosis.

    I was fortunate enough to go through such a program, where my mentors knew that for me to grow wings, they had to stretch my fiber to the breaking point, but without breaking; with just enough help and guidance. That experience made me who I am. And Morris had a central role to play in that rebirth.

    I still remember the very first class of Morris’ that I attended, as a first year student in 1978. It was a course on metrical phonology, covering syllable structure, stress, and auto-segmental phonology. He sketched the central preoccupations of phonological theory since SPE as those of representations and rules, and how three MIT theses — of Kahn, Liberman, and Goldsmith — had transformed the concept of representations as a linear string into the conception of a string with an internal structure that was hierarchical. I doubt if those who went to graduate school in the eighties or later would appreciate what it was like to bring together these three strands into a single coherent conception. But for me as a student who knew only SPE phonology, that conception was a combination of the lyrical, the logical, and the magical. And I thought to myself, “This is the kind of mind I want to have as a linguist.”

    My first culture shock at MIT came during an appointment with Morris, to discuss a problem for which I had no solution. Given the SPE claim that simpler rules in the SPE framework expressed ‘natural’ or more recurrent phenomena, a rule that spreads anteriority, voice, and consonantality should be as natural as a rule that spreads anteriority, labiality, and backness. Yet, the former was unheard of, while the latter appeared in language after language. How do we solve this problem?

    I outlined the nature of my worry, expecting Morris to hand down a solution. After all, I had travelled all the way from India to sit at the feet of the all-knowing sage and learn. “That is a very interesting problem,” said Morris. So how do we solve it, I asked. “I don’t know,” Morris said, almost sounding annoyed. “I don’t have solutions to all problems. You go and figure out a solution and come back, and we will have an intelligent discussion,” he said.

    I stared at him with total incomprehension. How could THE Morris Halle not know the solution to a problem that I happened to find? And how could he expect me, just a first year student, to solve it? It made no sense. But Morris shoo-ed me out.

    Coming from the Indian tradition, I had no idea that the responsibility of students was to investigate questions whose answers their teachers didn’t know. But by the same tradition, a student’s duty is to obey the teacher, so I set out to look for a solution. A few weeks later, I went back to him with a solution, drawing on the insights of the structure of sounds that was around at that time. And he was pleased. This was my very first taste of independent inquiry. My world has never been the same again.

    In my second year, I was toying with the idea of a model of phonology with an intermediate level of representation between the underlying and the phonetic, namely, the lexical level. Morris wasn’t convinced. I kept arguing with him, but he wouldn’t budge. He plainly expressed his disappointment with me, called me a revisionist, and said, “How come you haven’t learned anything from MIT?” Our conflict continued for what seemed like ages.

    Then came the trilateral student conference in Austin, Texas, with UT-Austin, UMass-Amherst, and MIT participating. Along with Donca Steriade and Bill Poser, I was selected to represent MIT. “What are you going to present?” Morris asked. Lexical phonology, I said. He frowned and said, “Okay, you have forty minutes to present your paper. One double-spaced page takes about two minutes to read. Give me a 20-page draft by this weekend, and I will decide whether you are going to Texas or not.”
    I gave him a draft in three days. The next day, he walked into my office, waving my paper. “Mohænan,” he said, “this is fantastic stuff.” He was beaming.
    I stood transfixed, unable to believe my ears. “But Morris, this is what I have been saying all along, so how come you didn’t like it earlier?”
    “Nah,” he said. “This is good stuff. What you gave me earlier was crap.”

    To this day, I don’t know if his change of heart was because I was finally able to construct and articulate a convincing argument, or because I kept pushing and at some point, he had a gestalt switch of perception.

    My fortunes changed after that. During one of our conversations, he said to me, “You are a good student, Mohænan. You disagree with me and sometimes prove that I am wrong. That is really good. I don’t like students who keep agreeing with me all the time. That way I don’t learn anything.” In the MIT linguistics culture, proving teachers wrong was the non-negotiable responsibility of students. This principle I have kept close to my heart as something sacred, to practice all my life.

    I learnt from him how to look beneath the technicalities and formalisms, at the conceptual strands of the theory. He would often spell out for me what I was trying unsuccessfully to articulate, like holding the hands of toddler to help him walk. Every time he did this I was amazed at the ease with which darkness gave way to crystal clear light. This was what I desperately wanted to be able to do in my life. I hope something of that ability has rubbed off on me.

    When I was thinking of a dissertation topic, Morris told to do one in syntax, not phonology. Given that he knew of my self-image as a phonologist, why did a phologist like him want me to do syntax? “Your phonology is good,” said Morris, “Whether or not you do a dissertation in phonology, I know you will do good phonology after your PhD. But your syntax is crap. To be a good linguist, you need to learn syntax. The best way to do this is by doing your thesis in syntax.”

    I couldn’t object to the reasoning. I found a syntax committee, and feverishly wrote a number of syntax papers for a year. I had enough papers to put together as a syntax thesis, but then it hit me that I wanted to be known as a phonologist, not as a syntactician. I went back to Morris. “You know I have done enough work to submit a syntax thesis, but I don’t want to. I want to submit a phonology thesis. Will you be my advisor?” He said yes.

    In a world where graduate students become hired hands to work for thesis advisors’ projects, it is hard to comprehend how a thesis advisor could have as his goal only the student’s well-rounded growth.

    After I submitted and defended my thesis, Morris advised me on the revisions. “Suppose your thesis was destroyed in a fire, he said. You want to tell the world what your thesis was really about, in one sentence. One sentence is all you get, so craft that sentence with utmost clarity and precision. Take your time: two or three days or a week, and come back to me with it.”

    This was tough. I struggled with that sentence for three days, and went to him. He was pleased. “Good, now expand that sentence into a brief paragraph.” I did. “Now expand that paragraph into a two-page abstract,” he said, “and cut out everything from your thesis that doesn’t contribute directly to it.”

    Having to axe what one had struggled to write was agonizing. But when it was done, the improvement was startling. And also, I had learned to write. Since then, I have repeated Morris’s advice to my own students, and they have benefited indirectly from him.

    The most unforgettable part of my education was the year I spent at MIT after my PhD, in an office next to him, working on a joint paper. The questions that he threw at me during this period were all incredible, some of them conceptual, others methodological. When he got to the office in the morning, he would typically walk into my office, sit on the table, and begin with “Mohænan, what we agreed on yesterday was wrong.” He would then proceed to give reasons. After extensive discussions and debates, we would come to some sort of agreement at the end of the day. But the next day the debates would begin again, with a statement of what was wrong. It was a long drawn out battle. By the end of that year, I had undergone another rebirth as a linguist.

    If I can give to my students a fragment of what I received from Morris, I would find it immensely fulfilling.

  17. Dylan Tsai May 4, 2018 at 9:47 pm

    As one of my graduate students reminded me lately, I wrote the following passage in the acknowledgment of my thesis:

    “Morris used to exclaim to me in his vigorous voice ‘We want to educate you!’, which he did. He rid me of self-pity, and kept me going through those darkest hours of my life.”

    I would think this said it all except one small anecdote: During the infamous training days of my first year, I used to apologize for my broken English at our meetings. Then Morris exclaimed, again in his vigorous voice, that it’s him who should apologize to me for not being able to speak Chinese (followed by the good old Russian spy story). That made my day, and today as well.

  18. Will Leben May 4, 2018 at 9:32 pm

    Appointments with Morris were something to look forward to. At our first one-on-one in the fall of 1969, partly aware of what he had already achieved in the field, I expected an intimidating presence and instead found a good listener and a surprisingly casual and often gentle conversation partner. That was pretty much the way it stayed, even when the message was not 100% positive, as was typical.

    Morris had a gift for putting me and I’ll bet others at ease. Conversations with him were punctuated with benign smiles and nods that could make one feel like an equal participant in the exchanges. At the end, he’d shoot one of his unique–almost conspiratorial–grins that left me feeling (proudly) that he and I had just plotted something wicket together.

  19. David Nash May 4, 2018 at 9:28 am

    I echo the appreciations already here, and I too have been struck by Morris’ sayings and pithy advice (which I have at times been moved to quote for the benefit of others who missed out on knowing Morris!) And I want to mention the Halles’ generosity in having me to stay (at their home in Newton) during my first northern summer (1976).
    Another astute observation I recall Morris making was on the value to the department of the physical space it had grown in. For some years, he said (this would’ve been maybe 1977) the administration kept offering the department a place in a new building, as a kind of reward and as a relief from Building 20. Morris resisted this, saying that he’d seen many times how a productive group went downhill after moving to new and ‘better’ quarters, because it got disrupted, and he wanted to avoid this

  20. Joseph Aoun May 3, 2018 at 5:26 pm

    I will always be grateful to Morris for his inspirational teaching and his warm and generous mentorship. But I am also forever indebted to him for my life as an American. Morris is the main reason my wife, Zeina, and I moved to the United States.

    After completing my PhD, we faced the choice of returning home to Europe or starting a new life here, with all its risks. Perhaps Morris recognized our hesitation to take the leap into the unknown, but, as we were wrestling with the decision, he arrived on our doorstep in Paris. During our long and wonderful conversations over the course of his stay, we spoke of possibilities and open doors, and of his own, much more remarkable, immigrant’s journey.

    There are many reasons for which I’m thankful to have known Morris. I will miss his unfailing brilliance, his generosity, and the care he showed through gestures great and small. Most of all, I’m thankful for those conversations we had in Paris years ago, for they made all the difference.

  21. Bev Stohl May 2, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    Wanting me to be tough with those who appeared to want too much of Chomsky’s time, Morris liked to repeat a line from a conversation that long-ago impressed him, in which one man said emphatically to another, “Do you read me clearly, Mr. Singh?” He thought I should ask of all interlopers, “Do you read me clearly…?” I was never quite tough enough, I think, for Morris’s taste, but part of that was Noam’s fault. Noam wanted me to let people down gently. And when they persisted, Noam asked me to be tougher on Noam, particularly when he asked me to NOT be tough. I think I managed to strike a good balance between their temperaments, finally knowing with whom to be tough, and whom to let down gently.

    Morris was introduced to me in 1993 as ‘The Godfather of Our Suite.’ In the world of my youth, a godfather looked out for you if your parents couldn’t. Morris certainly looked out for me, for Noam, and for each of our previous assistants, lastly Glenn. I loved our little world in Building Twenty, then at the end of the hall in Stata. No matter what else was going on in the department or in the larger world, we were a team, a bonded group. We held, cheered, and supported one another when needed. I would even go so far as to say I taught Morris a little bit of what it would have been like to have a daughter. Morris was a wonderful godfather. I’m sure there are others who feel the same way. Love and miss you, Morris

    • John Halle May 2, 2018 at 6:25 pm

      That’s funny Bev. The “Do you read me, Mr. Singh?” conversation was precipitated by Air India failing to remove my luggage on a NYC-London-Mumbai flight. I made a huge stink about it, threatening legal action, boycotts, physical violence etc, with the result that the representative called Mumbai demanding, Pukka Sahib style, that the local crew (who were probably making 12 cents an hour) hop to and get the suitcase on the first flight back to London. Anyway, it was my story. I like it that Morris told my stories. It’s no secret that I’ve gotten plenty of milage out of his.

  22. Nigel Fabb May 1, 2018 at 11:28 am

    “Data is overrated.”

  23. Anna Maria Di Sciullo April 30, 2018 at 1:17 pm

    I remember a discussion some time ago with Morris. I was looking into the structure of the syllable and I asked him whether he knew of any languages where the first constituent of a syllable would include more structure that the second, CV-C rather than C-VC. He gave me the example of the word “width”, consisting of two cyclic constituents [[wi:d]0], and mentioned that the question of whether “wi:d” should be syllabified as CV+C or as C+VC is secondary to the ordering of the syllabification rules in the phonology. He added that, as far as he knew, there was no good answer to my question in the literature. Morris was a wonderfully enthusiastic and skilled linguist, truly inspiring. I deeply regret his departure.

  24. Moira Yip April 30, 2018 at 5:25 am

    One September day in 1975 I walked in off the street to the MIT Linguistics department, and announced that I thought I’d like to do a PhD in Linguistics. The rather astonished secretary disappeared, and a few minutes later ushered me into Morris’s office. He gently explained that they had admitted the entering class back in April, so I was a little late. After a few questions, he also pointed out that I didn’t seem to be very well qualified, but that if I really insisted, I could be a special student in Baby Syntax, and should go and pay MIT’s financial office.

    But the financial office said the books had closed the previous day, so I returned, crestfallen, to Morris, who said, gruffly, that if I didn’t care about credits, and if they were too stupid to take my money, I could sit in on the class anyway.

    Six months later, I was offered a proper place for Fall 1976, all thanks to Morris’s kindness, and his willingness to give me a chance to show what I could do.

    We had some great battles over the next four years as I learnt phonology and defended my corner against his always probing questions, and throughout my later career he was the model to which I aspired as both a teacher and a scholar.

    Despite his famously having described my husband George as being “to the right of Genghis Khan” (not true, actually!), he (and Roz) welcomed my whole family, and I may have been the first student in the department to defend her thesis at 6 months pregnant. I suspect my all-male committee were terrified of asking me tough questions in case I went into premature labor, so they kindly passed me without undue stress!

    I am unable to attend the memorial service because I am moving out of my house in England this month, but Morris will always occupy a very special place in both my mind and my heart.

  25. Ann Farmer April 29, 2018 at 4:11 pm

    Morris’ oft repeated “good try, but no cigar” set the tone for my first year at MIT. In person, there was the chuckle that accompanied those words signaling I shouldn’t give up. I didn’t, and got my degree, a job, and even tenure. Whatever possessed me to leave the “job for life” and venture outside of academia is a long story, but I stayed in touch with Morris. When visiting him not long after starting my first Silicon Valley gig, he asked me how it was going. I told him that my training in linguistics was the best possible training I could have gotten, and I launched into how distinctive feature theory helped me solve a problem. I was able to advise the developers creating a testbench language on how to think about two particular variable types they’d posited, and name them so the developers using the language could easily understand what properties they shared. Result, customer support got fewer calls. Morris smiled, after I told him the story. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “they are lucky to have you.” In his eyes I was still a linguist making a contribution – “here’s the cigar, Ann.”

  26. Steven Pinker April 26, 2018 at 9:57 pm

    More than any linguist I know, Morris had the gift of seeing the simple combinatorial structure underlying a complicated set of phenomena. He’s the Mendele’ev of language -show him 103 elements, he’ll see the rows and columns of the periodic table; show him a quadratic equation, he’ll factor it. This was impressed on me in my first conversation with him (when I was a postdoc), and he explained that the characters of cursive handwriting had a grammar of elementary strokes – a = c + i, etc. This led to his triumph, SPE and much of the rest of generative phonology, together with (what some might call) its excesses, as in “rin” being the never-pronounced root of “to run” (so that the paradigm rin-ran-run is parallel to sing-sang-sung, drink-drank-drunk, etc.); his claim that English spelling is an “optimally designed” system, and so on. He exposed – or imposed, or maybe both – the elegance, beauty, harmony, and underlying simplicity of sound structure.

    Another memory comes not from my interaction with Morris himself but from my viewing a letter he had written to Roman Jakobson in the mid-1950s that was reproduced in an exhibition on the history of the humanities at MIT. It is prescient, and perhaps in more than one way: “I am very impressed with Noam’s ability as a linguist: he has [sic] wonderful head on his shoulders, if only he did not always want to do all things in the most difficult way possible.”

    • Bert Vaux May 4, 2018 at 9:10 pm

      Well put! Morris was certainly interested (back in the 50s with Jakobson and Cherry) that phoneme inventories were optimally designed, though he later moved away from that position. As for English spelling, he once told me that it was “the devil’s invention”…

      • Bert Vaux May 4, 2018 at 9:12 pm

        whoops–omitted “in the idea that” from “was interested in the idea that phoneme inventories were optimally designed”.

  27. Seth Cable April 25, 2018 at 11:10 am

    Although, I didn’t have very many interactions with Morris as a student – since my principle interests were in syntax and semantics – I did want to share one fond memory, one that I’m sure is akin to many others shared here. Although I had only peripheral interests in phonology, I did write one of my generals papers in phonology, on a number of processes and alternations that take place in the Tlingit verb. Morris was in attendance when I presented this work at a phonology group one afternoon (this was around the spring of 2004).

    I didn’t have much faith in the project at the time – its value or general interest – and so it was a quite a shock to me when Morris started asking all kinds of supportive and interesting questions. I can no longer remember exactly what he asked, only that there were tons of questions and comments, that they got me excited in the project again, and that they generally made the project seem to me (and to others in the room) much more interesting that I had thought it was.

    The next morning, I checked my mailbox as usual, and found there a handwritten letter from Morris. I keep it in a frame in my bedroom to this day. It reads:

    “Dear Seth,
    I liked your Lingit paper lots. The attached text of a lecture I gave at the Linguistic Institute last June deals with some of the same topics that came up in your paper. You might like to see how I deal with these issues.
    With Best Wishes,
    Morris.”

    Although this definitely isn’t the most dramatic or humorous story in this collection, I wanted to share it, to give one more example of the kind of incredible person Morris was. I don’t wish to ‘humblebrag’ here, but an important postscript to add is that this project – which I had given up much hope or excitement on until Morris came along – eventually became my first real publication, a short monograph published by Lincom titled “Syncope in the Verbal Prefixes of Tlingit: Meter and Surface Phonotactics”. Although it’s definitely not the most important contribution to linguistic science, it wouldn’t have come about at all if not for Morris’s warm support.

  28. Ray Jackendoff April 25, 2018 at 8:54 am

    I can’t remember if this happened when I was a grad student or when I was on sabbatical at MIT 10 years later. In any event, I was in my cubicle in good old 20D-102, and Morris came wandering in. “Ahh, Jackendoff!!” he growled. “Your debt to me is infinite, right?” “Yes, sir,” I stammered. “Well, you can start working it off by reviewing this paper for me!”

    We were having a gathering at our house for some occasion, maybe my daughter’s bat mitzvah, and my father got to talking to Morris. When Morris mentioned that he had come from Riga, my father said he had two uncles who came from Riga. “And what were their names?” asked Morris. “Treskunoff,” said my father. “Hmm, Trrreskoonoff,” exclaimed Morris, rolling the r and un-reducing the vowel. “I knew them — he had a tobacco shop.” It developed that Morris had taken with him from Riga a phone book. (Why??) Shortly thereafter, he made me a copy of the relevant page, which I passed on to my father, which he passed on to his cousin, who was going to Riga, and she was able to find her uncle’s house — for her a moving evocation of the past.

    Morris’s critique of a paper I had written at the height of the Linguistic Wars: “You have to remember, you’re not writing this paper for George” [Lakoff].

  29. Philip Khoury April 24, 2018 at 8:11 pm

    Morris Halle helped to establish the world’s leading theoretical Linguisitics program. And he was at the same time one of the worlds’s most distinguished linguists. Morris was also a broadly educated and cultivated scholar with a big heart. I feel privileged to have known him.

  30. Maria Luisa Zubizarreta April 24, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    I have many many fond & happy memories of Morris, but I would like to reminisce his spring 1979 phonology seminar. Although I was a fresh first year graduate student at that point, I enrolled in the course. It was on metrical phonology, which was then a young and fresh theoretical approach that provided new perspectives on new & old facts. The course had three parts: one on the syllable, one on stress, and one vowel harmony. At the beginning of each part, Morris would lecture on the topic and then we the students would present our own research related to that topic. Thus, students ended with 3 papers at the end of the term and MITWP was born the following summer (with papers mostly from that course). It was a fantastic learning experience, with many long nights spent at the Harvard library and many exciting discussions with Morris and fellow students –unforgettable till this day. I am grateful to Morris (and my peers) for teaching me how to do linguistics.

  31. Hyon Sook Choe April 23, 2018 at 12:45 am

    I am no phonologist, but I very much appreciate his teacing. His bright eyes and his enthusiasm about linguistics were a beacon to me. I’d like to express my belated but sincere condolence and gratitude.

  32. Carlos Piera April 21, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    The first time I saw Morris was in December 1975, when he and Paul Kiparsky gave their paper on the Indo-European accent at the LSA meeting in San Francisco. The philologist Yakov Malkiel was in the audience and (sort of) objected that he was not sure how that account differed from the one proposed by some Russian scholar I had never heard of. Morris replied, instantly: “So what? I came here to speak the truth, not to tell you news.” I am sure many linguists have told this story many times. And I can think of several very good reasons for repeating it. Thank you, Morris.

  33. Andrea Calabrese April 20, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    Morris was not only my scientific mentor but also my greatest friend. The long hours we spent together talking not only about linguistics but also about history and religion, philosophy and music, literature and the nature of life and death, Latvia and his adventurous escape out of it, and whatever else we thought of, happily laughing at his witty aphorisms (often in Latin) and bon mots, are among the most cherished times of my life, and their memories are forever part of the innermost sacred treasure of my heart and soul, central part of what I am until I die, and I duly share them with my children, my students and friends as Morris shared his stories of Roman, his mentor and friend, with me. And, now, at his moment, suddenly, the memory of our conversations on Psalm 137: By the rivers of Baylon, we sat and wept is surging within my mind. In studying the metrical structure of Hebrew bible original text, Morris had discovered that it was a calligram and that it contained the graphic representation of Solomon’s temple with its four frontal pillars. I remember how pleased and excited he was by his discovery. Now, in the sad moment of his departure from this world, I would like to think of him, as standing there, in the celestial Jerusalem—I hope that there is one—in front of the temple he was searching for in poetry, joyfully admiring its beauty, and I say, Morris, you were right as always…..

  34. Jim Fidelholtz April 20, 2018 at 7:39 am

    Like everybody, I was deeply saddened by the news of Morris’s death. Though he wasn’t my thesis advisor (that, at Morris’s suggestion, was Hu Matthews), I always considered him as my mentor. One thing that he always said sticks in my mind. He always claimed (incorrectly) that he was *not* a great linguist, but rather simply made it a point to work a little bit on linguistics every single day, which I always considered a very deep and reasonable suggestion. I haven’t really followed that advice very consistently (I work rather in fits and starts), but, as I always tell my students “Do as I say, not as I do”. For Morris, of course, the two things were the same, more to his credit.

  35. Lisa Cheng April 20, 2018 at 6:34 am

    Morris’ advice to me for being the chair of the department in UC Irvine: “Don’t take it too seriously. Think of it as being on stage. You get on the stage, and you get off the stage.” With his typical laughter, he added: “Don’t forget to get off the stage every day.”

    • David Pesetsky April 20, 2018 at 8:29 am

      Parallel remark from Morris, apropos of — well, never mind: “You never want your department head to be a person who badly wants to be department head.”

  36. Zhiming Bao April 19, 2018 at 9:29 pm

    I don’t remember what I was working on, but I gave Morris something and promised that it was much better than an earlier version. Morris said, and I still remember his laughter when he said it, Bao, the French has a saying. The better is the enemy of the good.

  37. Mario Montalbetti April 19, 2018 at 7:38 am

    Morris asked me once which was more important, to know or to understand. I thought the latter. “Wrong!” said Morris—and proceeded to tell the following story: “My brother asked me once if I knew how to play the clarinet. I said that I didn’t but that I understood the basic principles involved. Not good enough, said my brother.”

  38. Ora Matushansky April 19, 2018 at 5:18 am

    Someone who cannot tell her story about Morris. A student I knew, not from the Linguistics and Philosophy department, would come to talk to him about her personal problems. I knew a little bit about them and she would talk to me too, she was so grateful for Morris’ support and advice. She killed herself a bit later, but for some time Morris was one of the few people who held her alive.

  39. Corey Washington April 19, 2018 at 3:12 am

    I was only in the department for a short while but in that time I forged a friendship and love for Morris that lasted for 33 years. I remember Morris fondly from Building 20 but what I really cherish from those years are the walks we would take around Cambridge. We would start at building 20 and head up past Central Square, making a large triangle and sometimes a pentagon. We would walk and talk about everything under the sun and laugh and laugh and laugh. He gave me great advice, most of which I did not take but should have. Later, I would see him when he came to Amherst, my hometown, to visit his nephew and family. We last saw each other in 2012 at a friend’s son’s Bar Mitzvah. The photo I am uploading is from that occasion. I will never forget him.

  40. Luciana Raccanello Storto April 18, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    Per aspera ad astra

  41. Haj Ross April 18, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    The first class I took with Morris – the immortal 23.763 – Phonology. Tony Naro, one of my classmates, was in a the class, and told the class some analysis that he had worked out. Morris said, “No, that’s prohibited by the theory.” Tony said, “But Chomsky had a rule just like that yesterday.”

    Possibly embarrassing moment?

    Unnonplussed, Morris rejoined, ªQuod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.” [Latin for “What is permitted for the gods is not permitted for cows.”

  42. Tom Wasow April 18, 2018 at 11:56 am

    In the fall of 1971, I met with Morris (“Professor Halle” to the students at the time) to talk about a draft of a thesis chapter I had given him to read. The chapter included a brief discussion of the superfluous negation that occurs in some New England dialects in sentences like “Pat likes sushi, and so don’t I” (meaning I like sushi, too). He turned to the page where that discussion occurred and expressed disbelief in the existence of such a dialect. I told him to check with his children (then adolescents, I believe), who had lived in the area their whole lives. I said they would be familiar with the construction whose existence he doubted, and probably used it themselves. He responded, “They better not!”

  43. Peggy Speas April 18, 2018 at 10:35 am

    Morris was a model of how to make the strongest possible case for what you believe is right yet continue to question and learn. He treated everyone as if they were likely to have something interesting to say, and this attitude was instrumental in teaching me that voicing disagreement can be the highest form of respect. His advice that “If you believe what we teach you here, it’s your own fault,” punctuated by the Morris chuckle, deeply influenced my own teaching and learning.

  44. Paul Elbourne April 18, 2018 at 9:34 am

    Another nugget:

    “Linguistics is like skiing. You gotta fall down. If you go skiing and you don’t wanna fall down, you’re in the wrong business.”

  45. Kai von Fintel April 16, 2018 at 5:40 pm

    John Halle on his blog (https://johnhalle.com/outragesandinterludes/morris-halle-1923-2018/) comments that “perhaps Morris’s most conspicuous quality was a) his ability to determine the right thing to do and b) doing it. Both are much easier said than done-of course. He was unusual in neither being a problem for him”. One of my two favorite stories about Morris illustrates this: since the department moved into the Stata Center, we have had the luxury of having a gym right downstairs in the building. For several years, whenever I went (which wasn’t all that regularly), I saw Morris doing his workout, things like weights and balance balls. One day, in the elevator back up to the department, I told him how impressed I was. He said, “Kai, for you this may be fun, for me it’s a matter of life and death”.

    The other Morris story I like to tell is what we told me when I was a young assistant professor: “Kai, the one thing to remember about students is that they get younger every year”.

  46. Michael Wagner April 15, 2018 at 2:03 pm

    Five lessons learned from Morris Halle

    I didn’t know Morris well and didn’t work closely with him, but here are, nevertheless, five concrete things he taught me:

    1. The garden of horrors
    At some point I talked to Morris about how hard I found the process of writing the paper I was trying to write (my first general’s paper probably), and he told me that when he read the draft of the first general’s papers of a famous and universally admired linguist, he opened his comments on the paper by saying: I have visited your garden of horrors! (or something along those lines, but it did involve garden of horrors) And then continued pointing out all the many things that were wrong with the paper. He chose the particular example because the author is someone whose work and abilities he clearly revered like that of few others in the field, and he wanted to convey that writing a good paper doesn’t come easy to most people, even to someone like her at that stage. Writing is hard, developing good arguments is hard, and even when you think you have a good argument, writing that down can be hard in itself. Many people completely underestimate how much effort they need to put in in order for the result to be any good. And such an anecdote can come in handy. ‘Garden of horrors’ has become a surprisingly useful term that I use for the early stages of most things I write myself, sadly. The anecdote also made me realize that there’s a certain drastic but well-intended advising style that was part of the culture at MIT for some. It’s not something I would adopt myself, but this story made me appreciate it, and helped me take in some comments that I received over the years. Such as Noam Chomsky once telling me about a paper of mine that he kindly read: ‘This is not just wrong, this is the wrongest possible theory you could have about this’. This was a comment made in a meeting in which he gave me incredibly generous and productive comments, based on a very detailed reading of the paper, but in which he also didn’t mince his words. But I had learned not to be discouraged by that. Being blunt can be a form of respect, because when done right it can convey that one considers the other to be on an equal footing, and doesn’t want to lose time with niceties. It also made it easier to take in a comment of a draft of my own first general’s paper from one of my advisors, which was scathing to a similar degree as the term ‘garden of horrors’, and ultimately turned out to be very helpful. I use this latter experience as the anecdote that I tell students of mine who struggle with their own writing, rather than throwing someone else under the bus. But ‘garden of horrors’ is much better.

    2. You goofed
    In my second year at MIT, I somehow ended up on the organizing committee for colloquia, a commitment that does not play to my strengths. Somewhat inevitably, for one colloquium, I managed to mix up the room number in the ad for the talk. There was confusion when everyone arrived and the room was already taken, considerable panic on my side in trying to figure out what the actual room was, and of course a lot of embarrassment. While I was standing there hoping to be invisible, Morris came down the hallway, with Luigi Rizzi, the invited speaker, by his side. Let’s stop here: Try to think what you would do in Morris’s shoes—you’re one of the world’s most legendary linguists, walking next to another famous linguist, and see a clearly embarrassed student crushed by feelings guilt and humiliation, and try to say something helpful. Here’s Morris’s solution: ‘Ha, there he is!’, he yelled through the corridor, laughing, and then continued: ‘You goofed!’, throwing up his hands, cackling, and beaming with apparent enjoyment of the situation. What is hard to explain that he somehow managed to do this in such a way that it was funny without making me the butt of the joke, but rather the buddy, if that makes sense. He made it feel like someone was teasing a good friend affectionately, as if the most important part of the mishap was that it gave us an opportunity to have a good laugh together. It was also oddly liberating he put on the table what was obvious. And soon I found myself walking with him and Rizzi to the actual room, and it somehow all seemed less bad (thankfully, the actual room was also not so far away). The lesson I see in this is not so much Morris’s solution, which I would have a hard time pulling off with the intended effect. And I’m pretty sure most people should not try this at home unless they know what they’re doing. But I think of this story whenever there is an administrative mishap (which sadly happens more often at my university than it should, but maybe that is a universal). There is nothing more frustrating than if everyone is trying to pretend nothing happened, or that it was normal or even supposed to be that way. It’s much better to simply say ‘I goofed’–at least in the absence of Morris being there to do you the favor and saying it for you. It makes everything easier, including for your yourself, and helps avoid future goofs. So I try to say ‘I goofed’ loud and clearly when the occasion arises. And I often wish that there was someone around who is able to say it also for those who can’t or won’t say it for themselves, without causing offense. We would live in a better world.

    3. The smartest boy from Pinsk
    I don’t remember why this conversation happened, but Morris shared with us the observation that there’s a certain type behavioral pattern of a kind of grad student. He said they’re the like smartest boy from Pinsk (or I think at least it was Pinsk). Who suddenly finds themselves in an environment in which everyone else was also the smartest person from somewhere, and they’re not so special anymore, possibly not special at all. And then they have a bad way of dealing with that situation. I don’t know whether this is an actual set expression or a reference or just something Morris said that one time–I’d love to know. It’s a pretty useful concept. Entitlement can be very toxic, and needs to be reigned in sometimes, otherwise people get intimidated or discouraged by the misplaced competitiveness around them, which often may just cover up a deep-seated fear of being an imposter, which many of us had. Morris had a sense of humor that could induce humility, and take people down a notch or two when they needed it most. This expression somehow captures this for me, and provides a useful label, even if it’s usually too inappropriate to use in situations where it’s most applicable. You could take issue with the genderedness of the term, but it’s kind of part of the point: I think the behaviors he had in mind are typically male. The smartest girls from Pinsk don’t act that way. And yet I can think of a few smartest boys from Pinsk that were female. And yes, maybe on occasion, I had been one as well.

    4. Bachs
    At some point in the program, I was meeting with Morris regularly. I had started to work on the stress pattern of predicate clusters in German and Dutch. Morris was trying to convince my that the syntactic approach to their stress was not right, and that within certain domains at least it was going to be rightmost or leftmost or something more phonological at any rate, and that predicate clusters may be one such domain. And it’s true that stress is mostly initial in German predicate cluster and final in Dutch ones. He may just have been pushing me to find better arguments, but he seemed truly skeptical, and said that I wasn’t looking at this in the right way. He told me, as he apparently told others (Daniel Harbour said something similar in a recent post on facebook) that he’s worried that I’m confused, on the wrong track. I wanted to convince him that this was the right direction after all. I came across a book by Gunnar Bech, a Danish linguist who wrote a beautiful analysis of the syntax of German, I think for a competition of some sort, in the 50s. It includes incredibly insightful analyses of predicate clusters, including observations about their stress patterns. The German he describes is not the German that I speak. Many of the word orders he discusses, although understandable, are impossible in my dialect. I’m not actually sure anymore, but maybe these word orders are possible in the German spoken in Denmark or at least in the North, I don’t have the book handy to check whether he talks about the provenance of the examples. Anyway, I took the book into Morris’s office, and pointed him to some particular sets of examples with extravagantly permuted clusters, and asked him whether he found them grammatical. He said he didn’t. Then I asked him to read them out aloud. At first he seemed puzzled by the request, but he played along. After reading a few and realizing where he had put the nuclear stress—which was were it was syntactically expected—he cackled with his mischievous laugh. He immensely enjoyed that I had played the same trick on him that he had played with his discussion of plural of Bach, which is [baxs]. It clearly must have a voiceless [s], although native speakers of English have no experience of how to form plurals with words ending in [x] from their native input. The generalization they learned must be more general and abstract than having learned a list of sounds after which the plural is voiceless. I realized that while he clearly enjoyed being right, and he often was, he seemed to enjoy even more having taught someone how to convince him that he’s wrong.

    5. Verdächtig
    My research ended up taking me further into syntax and semantics, and I didn’t end up working much with Morris after. He had been hugely supportive at a time when I was struggling, but it didn’t seem fair to keep being reluctant to go into in the directions in which he seemed to want me to go in, or at least that was how I felt at the time. But it also felt bad not having continued trying. When I defended my thesis, there was a little celebration after. As if by accident, Morris came by. He walked up to my brother, who was there to visit, and who looks a lot like me. He took a stern look at him, and said ‘verdächtig!’ and laughed, and started to chat with him. A year later, at graduation, my entire family was there, and when there was an event in the department with everyone who graduated, he came out and chatted with them, again as if being there by accident, and making them feel welcome. He seemingly enjoyed trying out his native German whenever he could, but he also seemed to really still care, although I hadn’t really done anything to merit this kind of attention. Morris could be gruff and blunt, but he was also incredibly kind and generous, and took the time for these small gestures. Small and yet huge, they made all the difference in getting through the more difficult times in these years, for me and for many others in the program while I was there. They came naturally to him, but less so to me, and I try to remind myself of instances like these in the hope of being able to of follow his example better.

    These are 5 somewhat random lessons. Only one actually involves some linguistics. The truth is that I barely knew him. I tried to drop by his office whenever I was back at MIT since I left, but I hadn’t seen him now in many years. And we didn’t interact that much even when I was there. There are many other lessons I could have learned but didn’t. I’m mostly wondering now about the lessons that those who knew him so much better would come up with, and that might eventually be forgotten otherwise.

    • Tim Halle April 30, 2018 at 8:30 pm

      One of my brothers once asked Morris if Roman Jacobson had been the smartest boy in Pinsk.
      “Roman was the smartest boy”.