Thoughts and memories

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18 thoughts on “Thoughts and memories

  1. I will just attest here to how much Larry’s steadfast friendship and ongoing support meant to Penny Eckert and Ivan Sag during Ivan’s final illness. Not too long before Ivan died, Larry and Judy visited him and Penny, who both told me more than once how affirming the visit had been, not only because Larry’s own struggles with cancer gave him a perspective few of their other friends shared but also because his inimitable wry wit made them both smile. Thank you, Larry, for being the prototype of a “real mensch.”

  2. I so wish I could be there to celebrate “Hornucopia” in person, but I’ll just note here how much I love Larry’s enthusiasm for language as a living, and lively, thing. I hadn’t realized before I came to Yale that Prof. Horn applies his famed insight and wit not merely toward the likes of Aristotle, but also country music, Google hits, ads, dialects, gendered language, huh’s, mm-hmm’s, and salad-salads, with equal fluency. Talking with Larry was an inspiring reminder for me at a crucial time that linguistics can and should be fun, and that there are some truly good people (indeed, a “prototype of a real mensch”) doing it. To the un-boring side of language and life!

  3. Alas, I won’t be able to attend Hornucopia to celebrate Larry. I feel that Larry is a kindred soul in so many ways. True story: the founding documents of my interest in linguistics from my undergraduate days in the mid-80s were Eco’s theory of semiotics, William Sherwood’s Syncategoremata, Keenan & Faltz’s Boolean Semantics for Natural Language, and Larry’s dissertation “On the Semantic Properties of Logical Operators in English”. Having been primed by both medieval philosophy of language and my mathematical background, just the title of the dissertation said “that’s exactly what I want to do with my life”. Then reading it, I was in awe of the fascinating mind behind it. When my early work on exceptives (which was very much triggered by reading the medieval literature) made its way to Larry, he reached out and we’ve had many inspiring exchanges over the years. He was one of the many elder statespeople who made me welcome in the profession. Thanks for everything, Larry!

  4. A little known story about Larry … in early September of 1970, Spiro Agnew was sitting around with William Safire brainstorming for apt alliterative appellations for what are now known in conservative circles as the lame-stream media. “The hopeless hysterical hypochondriacs of history” Safire suggested, and Spiro said “that’s good, and what’s more, they’re a bunch of nattering nabobs.” Safire said, “I think you’re onto something ‘nattering nabobs’ ‘nattering nabobs’ … but nattering nabobs what?” Then, glancing down at Agnew’s desktop, Safire noticed an FBI Secret Surveillance file on a young professor at U. Cal Berkeley lying open to a page reporting the title of his dissertation; in the margin “SUSPECTED NIHILIST” was stamped in red ink.

    “Eureka!”, Safire exclaimed!

    And the rest is negativity,

  5. Larry was, is, and will always be a role model for me in teaching and research and in my daily lives. I was lucky to have Larry as my mentor when I studied at Yale. His use of authentic materials in class, including the message of “oral sex is not sex” from the words of former President Bill Clinton (the handout was used in the “Semantics” class, one of the first classes I took at Yale), made the lectures engaging. His inclusive approach to each topic always covered different perspectives and linguistic frameworks. In both teaching and research, I have always admired the breadth and depth of Larry’s knowledge, his astute and inquisitive mind (I was awed by his talk on “spitten image” and his way of getting to the bottom of things and finding out truth), and, of course, his wit and humor (after coming back from a conference held in China, he once told me that it was important to know the Chinese character for “male, man” and the one for “female, woman” to tell which was the men’s room). His classes I took for credit or audited, particularly “Information Structure” and “Grammatical Relations”, have continued to inspire my own research and teaching. As a mentor, Larry is always responsive and supportive. His way of mentoring students has also inspired me about how to be a good teacher [inspired by Larry, I now use three R’s (responsible, responsive, and refined, all of them being “R-based”) to gauge and improve my own teaching]. As for his support for his students, I personally owe too much to Larry for his support throughout my life at Yale and afterwards. Each important step of mine at Yale and afterwards has had his strong support, and any words would NOT be enough to express my deep gratitude to Larry (I soon realized that I used negation)!

  6. I first met Larry when I was a grad student taking his Pragmatics course (co-taught with Steve Levinson) at the 1987 LSA Institute. For that class, I wrote a paper countering him on some detail of body-part determiner choice (e.g., “broke my finger” vs. “burst a blood vessel”), which turned into my first LSA talk later that winter. The night before I presented it, Larry told me that if I didn’t address a certain datum in my talk, he was planning to ask about it during the question period. Needless to say, as a quaking-in-my-boots grad student about to give her first public talk, I was delighted at the chance to prepare ahead of time for one of the questions. So I (of course) didn’t address the datum in my talk, but instead prepared a coherent answer to the question. Sure enough, he asked the question, I gave my answer, and my confidence rose for the subsequent questions. Larry could easily have simply sprung the question on me, but instead he chose the path that made me look better at a cost to himself, and I’ve never stopped being grateful for that act of kindness to a newbie in the field. In the years since, I’ve seen this pattern of Larry’s professional kindness and decency repeated over and over, both to me and to others. He has been a major factor in my own professional success. Larry is not only brilliant, but he’s a genuinely good person. I’m honored to be his colleague and friend.

  7. On being Larry’s dissertation director:

    Larry and I were both discovering semantics during our (nearly identical) years at UCLA. I was discovering Montague and his formal semantics, while he was discovering generative semantics and getting into pragmatics before it had a name. He had started in 1966, so 1969-70 was his fourth year. I was going to be away on sabbatical most of that year, and he had an invitation from George Lakoff to go spend the year at the University of Michigan, where the Lakoffs and McCawley were spending a visiting year. Larry’s Ph.D. orals were back at UCLA in spring 1970. His NDEA fellowship was ending that year, so he spent 70-71 as an Acting Instructor at Berkeley (where Polly Jacobson and Barbara Abbott were in his syntax class!), and 71-72 on a postdoc at MIT — most of the year without money because he didn’t finish his dissertation until spring. We corresponded intensely as he worked on his dissertation. He was writing a generative semantics dissertation, and I was by that time pretty well convinced that generative semantics was the wrong way to go. So I critiqued everything pretty fiercely, but I was never going to tell him not to do it. And he argued back really strongly too, and kept making his arguments and analyses better and better. And I really enjoyed the experience, actually — I hope he did too. From our interview in 2014:
    L … So I would send you chapters, and as the year continued, I would write these chapters out in longhand on my yellow legal pads and then type them, and I would send the chapters to you, and you would write back with very detailed comments in red, saying how disappointed you were with my progress, and how exciting my work had been when I gave my CLS talk, and how sloppy I was being, and it really shaped me up, in the way you I’m sure intended, rather than discouraging me …

    [later, talking about Barbara and Polly having advisors at Berkeley who didn’t really read their dissertations] So I was thinking, how lucky I was to have an advisor who actually read my dissertation closely enough to trash it!
    And I have always taken great pride in having been Larry’s advisor, both because it’s a great dissertation tout court, and because I’m happy to think I was the advisor on what might be the best generative semantics dissertation of all.

  8. Since there’s no way I can possibly pick “a” story (Grice taken seriously here!) about Larry, I’ll just instead – in the spirit of Larry – post some facts facts about Larry. Some trivia, some known, some probably not so well known. In the spirit of Larry who knows so many facts, loves trivia, some known, some not so well known…..
    Larry is one of those people who can whip up a delicious meal with seemingly very little effort, though he clearly loves whatever effort it does take. It will always have a goodly amount of spices. Left to his own devices, it would have plenty of cilantro, but he is kind and compassionate and willing to make accommodations (even without a Dean’s note) to those of us who are cilantro challenged.
    Larry knows almost everything there is to know about country music. Including all the words to very clever songs – songs whose cleverness are very Larryish. (Does he moonlight as a country songwriter?) Clever lyrics such as “Gonna hire me a wino to decorate my home” (one of my favorite country songs), and “if I said you have a beautiful body would you hold it against me”. But Larry knows more than just the lyrics, and knows more than just country. He also knows almost everything there is to know about folk and folk rock. He knows who was Richard Farina’s first wife (Carolyn Hester). (I learned that from him! – or maybe from an online search, but Larry already knew it. He knows everything!)
    It doesn’t stop with country music. I recently discovered that Larry knows almost everything there is to know about all music! – or at least baroque in addition to country, folk, folk rock ,. …. Name a piece and he has it on his itunes folder. Multiple versions, and knows who did which, and who is playing what.
    Larry plays a mean kazooo! (although I think he may be a bit rusty now.)
    And Larry knows almost everything there is to know about sports trivia. From Larry I learned the great trivia question: “What is the minimum number of pitches that most be thrown in a regulation 9 innning game [where one team wins]?” It’s not what you think. Don’t ask. (If you have to start doing some arithmetic, you have it wrong.) Only Larry would know this (and I’m so proud that now I do, but only cause I learned it from Larry.) Oh, and whenever I’ve brought this up with other people and given them the answer they say ‘oh, but that would never happen’. Larry can actually give you the answer, distinguishing the semantics of baseball from pragmatics!!!!
    Despite growing up in New York, Larry had the good sense/taste to root for the Red Sox. And at least in the past for the Pats. He watched the Game in the Snow and rooted for Adam Vinateiri. And the horrible Darryl Stingley moment. (1976, I think.) And Larry roots or rooted for the Pittsburgh Pirates for no particular reason. In fact, the reason for his rooting for them is indeed that it is/was for no particular reason. (I hope I am getting this straight; I sometimes tend to confuse Larry with my big brother – as I guess I have them a bit in the same brain part. If I’m wrong, Larry, let me know!)
    Larry is so amazing with words and puns and anagrams that he’s a natural for those cryptic British style crosswords in Harpers and Atlantic. So good that he even made up one of his own. With, I remember, a wonderful clue whose answer was that unfortunately named town of Athol, MA.
    What can I say? Larry knows almost everything there is to know about everything (but you all already know that!) and has an undending infinite capacity for wit, facts, and ….. most important of all, a sense of FUN. About it all.

  9. Larry, it’s a challenge for me just to wrap my head around the titles of the talks in your honor much less the content. Alas, my linguistic heritage fails me. However, if you will entertain a little linguine alongside the more abundant linguistics, I’m all set. During the time that we have been friends with you and Judy, your passion for cooking and for all things edible has warmed my heart. The meals we’ve had together have brought such pleasure, the tales we’ve heard about food you ate on a particular trip have been most interesting, your commentary about this spice or that ingredient always informative and, last but not least, the certainty that I can deposit with you whatever odd items our son has left in our refrigerator after a visit….it’s all been wonderful. Of course, it’s also the case that here and there in conversation you have slipped in a number of linguistic tidbits, providing elucidation of a word or phrase. And, I should probably make clear that, really, we are the ones who have provided the linguine thus far. That said, I’m absolutely certain you are up to the task somewhere down the road of our future meals and conversations.
    In the meantime: Congratulations on the occasion of this exceptional celebration in honor of your work.

  10. On Larry and technological transformations:

    When I first saw Larry give a talk, I was an undergraduate, and he came with a cassette tape from which he played some of his pop song data. More than a decade later, I was the first person ever, as far as I know, to like “Larry Horn” on Facebook.

    As I said back then: what’s not to like?

  11. Larry and I were in the same entering grad student class at UCLA, 1967, and took a lot of classes together; we took quals together. Among the classes we took together was an intro to mathematical linguistics, taught by the new asssistant prof from MIT, Barbara Hall, as she was at the time, later Barbara Hall Partee. In addition to exploring the joys of pushdown store automata, Barbara would give us bulletins from her forays into the philosophy department with Richard Montague, whose work she had recently come across, and was attempting to comprehend and digest. I remember one of the first such days, when she came in and said (and I paraphrase loosely; I can’t DO Barbara, although it might be entertaining to see someone other than her try.) there’s this guy over in the philosophy who is doing interesting stuff about natural language, if I can just figure out what it is and how it relates to what we as linguists are doing. Larry and I just looked at each other with equal resignation. After class, I seem to remember us agreeing that if Barbara Partee can’t figure this out, there is a snowball’s chance in Hell for us. Hopefully, she will tell us, (as she has).

  12. Ah, fond memories of my cousin. Many years ago while watching the Wizard of Oz around Christmas the wicked witch was skywriting Surrender Dorothy and Larry said, “Is she saying, surrender Dorothy or surrender Dorothy?” Guess we’ll never know just as we’ll never know if they “Eat grandma.” Congratulations Larry, I can’t think of a more deserving linguist (even though you’re the only one I know).


  13. One time I was at an intersection in New Haven, waiting for the light to turn green, when I see Larry coasting through the intersection, waving at me. While rolling by, he points to the person sitting next to him in the car and shouts “this is [garbled]! He works on [garbled]! He’s here visiting for [garbled]!”

    I still have no idea to whom I had just been introduced. But it stands out in my mind to this day as the only drive-by introduction I’d ever been a party to!

  14. Memories of Larry. I think we met when he crashed at our Chicago apartment for CLS 5 in the spring of 1969. Jerry Morgan and I may have been the first to hear the narrative of his being detained by local police for Looking Weird in Columbus (Ohio). Being more or less snowed in that winter in a one-room graduate student office in the basement of the Frieze Building in Ann Arbor with Jerry Morgan and Paul Neubauer and John Lawler, riffing on linguistic themes with the intensity and the abandon of the new music of the day. After that, we headed in different geographical directions, bur we kept in touch, and he has always been the best friend.

  15. Larry Horn, my dissertation advisor and longstanding mentor, is, as everyone here knows, a scholar and whose work has shaped broad areas of inquiry in linguistics and philosophy. As a person, he also embodies wit, wisdom, and compassion. Keeping in mind certain maxims (brevity, relevance, et al), I shall only say here, on “Larry stories,” that in my case more than any single “Larry story” jumping to mind, my stories span a solid decade of probing discussions (on some of the usual suspects—negation, polarity, the behavior of Bengali NPIs) as well fun moments working together. The funnest moments involved new words—such as our shared discoveries of coinages like “Aberzombie” and “dormcest” as we combed through undergraduates’ “New Word Diaries” as part of Larry’s Structure and History of English Words class (which I TA’ed with him twice), or as when I watched Larry interject (always wryly and on-point) as the American Dialect Society picked “google” as the Word of the Decade (a few years back). New words, new paradigms, new ways of taking on sometimes old phenomena—that is Larry for me. I am humbled to attend Hornucopia in person and to have Larry’s continued mentorship in my life.

  16. Larry has always been an idol of mine, if not THE idol of mine, in linguistics. His wit is unmatched and his ability to come up with examples on the spot is still unbelievable. But what I most value about Larry is his generosity. He had no obligation whatsoever to look at, let alone read (or is it the other way round?), my dissertation, yet he read and commented on all of it and later chose it for the Garland series. Since then we have corresponded regularly and commented on each other’s work, and he has supported me at every turn. I even partly owe my tenure to him and the letter he wrote for me! When I got tenure I was allowed to choose a book to dedicate in the OSU library, and it was an easy choice: Larry’s Natural History of Negation. (I know that the title includes an initial “A”, but it really should be “The” since it is both exclusive and unique.) I hope my own research in pragmatics in some way helps repay the enormous debt I feel to Larry and his amazing body of work.

  17. This story was sent over email by Geoff Nunberg.

    I knew him before When; or, Neg Men Wear Plaid
    Geoff Nunberg

    This really happened, at the freewheeling LSA Summer Institute at Umass Amherst in 1974— summer of sex, drugs and Functional Sentence Perspective. It was in Susumo Kuno’s class on the last of those that Larry and I met for what we thought was the first time. That was the era of unbridled intuitionism, and we fell to disagreeing over the acceptability of some example—probably something on the order of the possibility of a co-referential reading for “In John’s apartment not only he smokes pot.” Neither of us wishing to tell the other he must be wrong, we mused that there must have been a dialect difference. There ensued an exchange that could have come straight out of Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano. We determined that we were both from New York City, indeed, from Manhattan (I from the Upper West Side, Larry from further uptown, within hailing distance of the stretch of the Harlem River known as Spuyten Duyvil, the image of which was to haunt his later work). Further inquiry revealed that we had both gone to grade school at Hunter College Elementary School on the East Side, and that being of an age, we had been in the third grade at the same time. A pause. “Hang on,” he said, “were you in X classroom or the Y classroom?” “I think the X,” I told him. “Oh well,” he said, “then that would have been on the other side of the isogloss.”

    It was only quite recently that documentary evidence of the earlier encounter emerged.

  18. Before Google, before Netscape, and even before Mosaic, there was the ready-available phone call with Larry. Larry can be counted on to deliver the most needed and possibly most correct search result every time . He is always be the go-to person for me, my family, and my friends for everything language (and frequently beyond language). He is delighted at any time of the day or night to answer questions that arise at my dinners, family gatherings, or other informal conversations (or during board games) about a word or a phrase, its meaning, origins, use in literature or everyday speech, or exemplification in anecdote. From time to time, he suggests, in a nice way, that my question is not unique, i.e., had been raised and responded to in depth in one of his publications or lectures. Whenever I spend time with Larry, meta-discussions about what we are talking about and how are common (which is not typically common outside of his presence). Often he calls up citations on his Mac to illustrate a point. So while Larry may be indeed be a user of modern technology, including now an up-to-date iPhone, I cannot imagine any browser that can ever replace in speed, value, reliability, or reflective humor, a phone call with Larry!

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