LINGUIST List 10.549

Fri Apr 16 1999

All: In Memoriam: James McCawley

Editor for this issue: Jody Huellmantel <>


  1. bwald, In Memoriam: James McCawley
  2. eddy gaytan, Jim McCawley, in memoriam

Message 1: In Memoriam: James McCawley

Date: Wed, 14 Apr 1999 02:01:35 -0700 (PDT)
From: bwald <bwaldHUMnet.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: In Memoriam: James McCawley

I was very surprised and deeply saddened to receive the news of James
McCawley's sudden and unexpected passing. When I saw him at the LSA
in LA at the beginning of January, I had no idea it would be the last
time I would see him and enjoy his brilliant conversation and
penetrating extemporaneous comments. After over thirty years I had
come to take it for granted that if I managed to get myself to the
LSA, among other meetings, he would be among the rewards that would
make the meeting worthwhile for me. I regret that I will not be able
to attend his memorial service in Chicago to pay my last and deepest
respects for him, so I feel a great urge to immediately express my
sorrow and respect through this message at least, and no doubt it will
be among the simplest and least capable of many messages that will
come in about him.

He was a great scholar and linguist, astonishingly widely and deeply
knowledgeable, honest, clear, sensitive, humourous, witty, and warm.
Although I never took a class with him, I can tell from his many
wonderful publications, and certainly from informal conversation with
him, that he was also a great teacher. Although it is small
consolation at this time, especially for those closest to him, his
spirit will live on in his writings and continue to touch those who
did not have the opportunity to be more personally touched by him.
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Message 2: Jim McCawley, in memoriam

Date: Wed, 14 Apr 1999 13:40:18 -0700
From: eddy gaytan <>
Subject: Jim McCawley, in memoriam

	Jim McCawley
	in memoriam
I am sitting here in the quietness of morning disturbed only by the
crystalline song of a cardinal, looking at the bibliography of one of
the last classes I took with Jim McCawley and the Philosophy of
Science, fall 97. The length of the bibliography leaves me in awe.

For me, it was by far one of the most interesting and arcane classes
taught by Jim, and also the one that most clearly reflected his
immense knowledge of our field. That quarter, he compared linguistics
with astronomy, mathematics, physics, medicine and chemistry. Jim was
willing to open the doors for us to see where linguistics stood in the
realm of science and how it would fare within the rigorous framework
of such works as Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,
Feyerabend's Farewell to Reason, Popper's Conjectures and Refutations,
and Objective Knowledge.

He never said whether linguistics was or was not a science, perhaps
one of the conclusions I was expecting to hear. He only pointed the
way for us to make our own decision. But make no mistake, his silence
was based on his immense knowledge. He knew that no simple answer was
possible, not even after having read all the books he put on the
bibliography. More amazing, and revealing of his high caliber as a
linguist and philosopher, is the fact that he knew that his own theory
should come under our scrutiny if his class was going to teach us
something. He knew that some of us would look more closely at his
theory, and decide whether it was scientific or not according to the
criteria laid out in front of us. Many theories populate the
linguistic realm in the USA. Some of them were born from
disagreements with other theories in the early days of generative
grammar, and usually their proponents are reluctant to expose them in
a class where they may be criticized. Very few linguists want their
theories exposed to scientific examination of that nature. But Jim was

In the light of his review of Feyerabend's Farewell to Reason, "the
Dark Side of Reason," and his discussion of Kuhn's The Structure of
Scientific Revolutions, one can only conclude that Jim knew very well
his was only one of many theories which inhabited the linguistic
universe at the end of the century. He knew that it was impossible to
claim that any of them was more scientific than the others. The fact
that so many exist attests to the relative value of each, with none of
them able to attract the opposite factions (cf. Kuhn, The Structure of
Scientific Revolutions). Through Linguistics and the Philosophy of
Science, Jim McCawley wanted us to confront the true state of our
discipline. The breadth of his knowledge amazes me, as well as his
courage to see where he stood.

I saw Jim for the last time in January in Los Angeles (LSA 99). I was
at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel on the 18th floor. Across Figueroa
Street the blue City Bank building rose tall and powerful into the
sky. At the very top a small bird was perched on the ledge; it looked
like a shadow. For some reason I compare that bird to Jim
McCawley. Only he (and perhaps a few others) had what is needed to
reach the heights. From there he contemplated the panorama of
linguistics in the USA, and found reassuring confirmation for the path
he had taken since his MIT- days. I now understand the significance of
his Linguistics and the Philosophy of Science.

Jim McCawley was the architect of his own life. He lived with the
dramatic elegance of an original thinker. Thank you, Jim. Your joie de
vivre (the first words we exchanged were related to the quality of a
bottle of vino tinto espaol!), and your knowledge and understanding
helped me immensely in getting my PHD. Eddy Gaytn (a Guatemalan
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