I studied English at Sarajevo University, which involved a lot of literature and
descriptive grammar (like Quirk et al), in addition to usual language classes. I was
almost set to continue with literature for graduate studies (a bit under pressure from
the lit people in the department after getting the highest mark in my final literature
exam [this used to happen about once in 10 years], for which among other things I wrote
an essay arguing Joyce’s Ulysses is the ultimate comedy).
|Then in the haze of my fourth
year (which involved acting in some theater performances and a lot of "staying up late"
for this and similar reasons) I took Midhat Ridjanovic’s linguistics course. It was on a
pretty basic level, with just a bit of generative stuff, but it was enough to give me a
sense of what linguistics is about. That and the infectious enthusiasm of the teacher
made it impossible for me not to decide to become a linguist. (Midhat Ridjanovic was not
only a great teacher, but also a tough grader. It wasn’t uncommon to see a note like this
on the English department board: ”48 students took the linguistics exam last Friday.
Nobody passed.”) Midhat talked me into applying for graduate programs in linguistics in
the US, since it was impossible to get a proper generative linguistics education in the
graduate programs in Yugoslavia at that time. I got a list of US graduate schools in the
American Center in Sarajevo and picked a couple of smaller, only MA schools (I don’t know
what criterion I used, or if there even was a criterion). One of them was West Virginia
University (WVU), which ended up offering me a graduate assistantship by mistake. (The
list of courses I took which I gave them included things like a year of phonology, a year
of syntax... They were those traditional, descriptive courses you take when you are
learning a language, while at WVU they were under the impression that these were serious
generative linguistics courses.)
|Anyway, they asked me to teach on my own an
undergraduate linguistics course at WVU, which was fine except that most of the material
I was supposed to teach was completely new to me. So it was one of those read it in the
evening, teach it in the morning things. (Once I actually had to teach a course at
9:00AM, which was very painful.) After getting an MA at WVU, I went to the University of
Connecticut to do my Ph.D. At one point at WVU, one of my teachers there left a note in
my mailbox asking me not to ask difficult questions in the class. The note included
something along the lines of ”I am not Howard Lasnik to...”, so I thought it might not be
a bad idea to go to UConn (Howard was of course at UConn at that time). After a phone
call from Mamoru Saito I indeed decided to go there. The path I took became a bit of a
tradition for a short period of time, since two other people, Sandra Stjepanovic and Sasa
Vukic, also took the Sarajevo-WVU-UConn path. And I’m still at UConn.
Svetlana Aksenova nominated Željko Bošković because she was inspired by a class she took with him at UConn.
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