LINGUIST List 10.573

Tue Apr 20 1999

All: In Memoriam: Jim McCawley

Editor for this issue: Jody Huellmantel <>


  1. Karl V. Teeter, Jim McCawley
  2. H Stephen Straight, James D McCawley: A Final Remembrance

Message 1: Jim McCawley

Date: Sat, 17 Apr 1999 11:33:35 -0400
From: Karl V. Teeter <>
Subject: Jim McCawley

I first met Jim McCawley in the early sixties. This was at MIT, where
there was an ongoing seminar on the grammar of Japanese. One year
when Noam was away, I was honored to sit in as chairman of this group,
and its most brilliant and active participant was Jim.

We never failed to speak together at meetings (most recently this year
at the LSA in LA), and one always left a talk with Jim with a smile.
His brilliant and friendly humor, however, masked a trenchant and
powerful style of discussion and argument, as shown for example in his
review of Noam's Studies in Generative Grammar, which I am now
rereading as a memorial to him. Jim was a beautiful person and a
brilliant linguist, absolutely irreplaceable.

May his memory remain forever with us!


Karl V. Teeter
Professor of Linguistics Emeritus
Harvard University

Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: James D McCawley: A Final Remembrance

Date: Sun, 18 Apr 1999 00:21:24 -0400
From: H Stephen Straight <>
Subject: James D McCawley: A Final Remembrance

The Westin Bonaventure ballroom was beginning to fill up when the
former student, only six years Jim's junior and now a full professor
himself, happened upon Jim McCawley, the man most responsible for the
former student's having decided to become a linguist. Predictably,
though they hadn't seen each other in nearly three years and had only
crossed paths a dozen or so times since Jim had transformed himself
from beloved teacher to esteemed colleague with an affirmative vote on
the student's dissertation, Jim's face blossomed into a massive,
wide-eyed, toothy grin as the two vigorously shook hands.

After threading their way through the crowd, pausing repeatedly to
acknowledge greetings for Jim, they sat together in the front row of
the second bank of seats, No small talk got in the way of their moving
directly to their constant joint purpose, to do linguistics: Swinging
his rumpled briefcase up onto his lap, Jim leafed through it, pulling
out paper after paper in lieu of what could otherwise have required a
four-hour recitation of the fruits of the last 18 months or so of his
scholarly production. Most of the gifts came with the usual "Here's
my chapter in the book so-and-so put together for such-and-such a
press", but when he got to his favorite, an annual compendium of
linguistic oddities, Jim paused to crow over a few wonderful published
examples of Bach-Peters sentences, and was rewarded by his
well-trained student with a neat little analogy between Bach-Peters
sentences and M.C. Escher prints, such as the Belvedere, which can be
captioned "The man who is climbing it doesn't realize the
impossibility of getting up the ladder he is climbing."

As soon as Jim had finished voraciously inscribing the delicious
example in the back of the checkbook he used as an ever-ready notepad,
the two faced forward to hear the plenary speaker. The topic was a
familiar one to Jim -- his frequent asides included a rueful reference
to the fact that he had demolished more than one of the speaker's
arguments in a review he'd published several years before -- but his
attention never flagged, and his good humor never diminished.

When the talk was over, Jim was the first to jump to the microphone:
"Can you please help me understand something that has always puzzled
me about the way many linguists use the term 'universal grammar'?
When you say that something is a fact of universal grammar, are you
using the word grammar as a count noun or a mass noun? In my view,
there may be lots of universal grammar around without their _a_
universal grammar." The speaker of course provided the standard
waffling response to this question, and didn't seem to realize that
many in the audience would conclude that this question undermined the
entire foundation of the talk he had given. But Jim didn't press the
point, and when the discussion period ended he applauded loudly, his
hands raised high over his head, his sparkling eyes riveted
affectionately on those of the speaker, and his mouth broadened into a
winning smile.

As they rose from their seats to sidle together down the center aisle
and out of the room, the two -- still truly teacher and student
despite the passage of time and changes of status -- exchanged remarks
about how much had changed and how little had changed in the 30-plus
years they'd been doing linguistics together. When they got to the
foyer, the former student was turning to ask if Jim could join him for
dinner when a senior figure, whose comments earlier in the day had
made the student think that he might not wait another decade to come
to a meeting of this professional society, pulled Jim aside to whisper
about dinner arrangements for Jim and the other past presidents.
Realizing instantly what he'd do with his evening, the student gave
Jim a smiling wave good-bye and went up to his room to start working
his way through the pile of goodies he'd greedily stuffed into his

		Best.		'Bye.		Steve

 H Stephen Straight -- Anthro, Ling, & Langs Across the Curric (LxC)
 Office: 607.777.2824 - Home: 607.723.0157 - Fax: 607.777.2889/.2477
 Spring 1999 Ofc Hrs, Sci 1 Rm 220: T 2-4, W 2-3:30 & by appointment
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue