LINGUIST List 15.286

Mon Jan 26 2004

All: Obituary: Zeno Vendler

Editor for this issue: Sarah Murray <>


  • Susan Fischer, Obituary: Zeno Vendler

    Message 1: Obituary: Zeno Vendler

    Date: Sat, 24 Jan 2004 16:51:52 -0500
    From: Susan Fischer <>
    Subject: Obituary: Zeno Vendler

    Zeno Vendler died of kidney failure on January 13, 2004, while on an extended stay with family in Hungary. He was 82, and had retired earlier from UCSD. He also taught at Cornell, Brooklyn College, and the University of Calgary, where he was a founding member of the philosophy department.

    Zeno Vendler loved language. He was raised in a German speaking family in Hungary, and thus started out bilingual in German and Hungarian. He became fluent in Latin and Dutch during his stay in a Jesuit seminary in Maastricht, Holland. He fell in love with English, though he learned it relatively late. Ordinary language philosophy was thus tailor-made for Vendler's passion and reflection. Vendler was also initiated into modern linguistics through his association with Zellig Harris. After completing his dissertation at Harvard, in 1959, through fortuitous circumstances he got a position in Harris's project on grammatical transformations. Vendler adored Harris as a true genius. The result from this tutorial into linguistics was a monograph, Adjectives and Nominalizations.

    Vendler is well-known among linguists, most notably through two early works: "Each and every, any and all," and "verbs and times." The first is an analysis of subtle differences among four English words that correspond to universal quantifiers in logic. The second concerns the often subtle effects of verb expressions on aspectual interpretation of sentences; the two terms Vendler introduced in the discussion of this topic area; "achievement" and "accomplishment," have since become basic technical vocabulary in modern linguistics. Both of these works have been extremely influential and have served as sources for the later development of sophisticated and highly technical treatments of their respective topic areas. It may also be noted that Vendler's work on the order of prenominal modifiers provides a precursor to theories of parsing.

    Zeno loved language not only for what one has as competence, but also for what one performs with it for the enjoyment of life with friends. He was a delightful and delighted conversationalist. Zeno's passion for language was matched only by his love for geography. He loved to quiz his interlocutors about such things as the relative populations of various countries. He was a great traveller; his last major trip, when he was nearly eighty, was a cruise to Antarctica, the last continent for him to conquer. He was a dedicated and accomplished travel photographer who took pride in his ability to hold the camera still for a long enough time to take pictures in dark places with neither flash nor tripod.

    For Vendler's contributions to philosophy, we refer the reader to an obituary posted at the website of the Department of Philosophy, University of Calgary:

    SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY "Verbs and Times", Philosophical Review 56 (1957): 143=9660. Linguistics in Philosophy (Ithaca, 1967). Adjectives and nominalizations (The Hague, 1968). Res cogitans: an essay in rational psychology (Ithaca, 1972). The matter of minds. Oxford : Clarendon Press (New York, 1984).

    Susan Fischer and S.-Y. Kuroda