LINGUIST List 23.3406

Tue Aug 14 2012

All: Obituary: Prof. Yehuda N. Falk

Editor for this issue: Kristen Dunkinson <kristenlinguistlist.org>



Date: 13-Aug-2012
From: Nora Boneh <bonehnmscc.huji.ac.il>
Subject: Obituary: Prof. Yehuda N. Falk
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Prof. Yehuda N. Falk passed away in Jerusalem, Israel, on July 4th2012 at the age of 53. He is survived by his wife Brandel, and fivechildren: Eli, Yoni, Mati, Gabi and Pnina.

Yehuda Falk was an eminent scholar in the LFG community. He taughtlinguistics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem from 1984 until hisdeath, first in the English department and then in the linguisticsdepartment. We, his colleagues from these departments, devastated athis untimely passing away, have been honored and privileged to havehim as our colleague. He was a man with a rare sense of humor, whichhad the power to light up the dreariest of meetings and engage hisstudents, many of whom testify that he caused them to becomeenamored with linguistics. We will always remember him as a trueMensch and a wonderful teacher.  He was a man of great devotion tolinguistics and the study of languages that he loved so; to his students,by whom he is sorely missed; to his hobbies; and above all, to hisfamily. He will continue to be an inspiration to us all.

For more information on Prof. Falk's life and work please visit hiswebsite: http://pluto.mscc.huji.ac.il/~msyfalk/
Here are words in his memory written by Joan Bresnan, slightlycorrected from the LFG Bulletin of July 2012


Remembering Yehuda Falk --Joan Bresnan

I first met Yehuda Falk when he entered graduate school in linguistics
at MIT in the early 1980's.  He had studied with Ray Jackendoff as an
undergraduate at Brandeis University.  While still a young graduate
student, he made several brilliant contributions to syntactic theory
(Falk 1983a,b, and 1984).  His proposed theory factoring apart linearorder and dominance relations in constituent structure (1983a) was amajor advance, adopted in various syntactic frameworks includingGPSG, LFG, and GB.  He also contributed a major study of the Englishauxiliary system, which was published in the journal Language (1984).In this study he argued persuasively for a mixed analysis of Englishauxiliaries as complement-taking verbs and analytical exponents oftense, and he also proposed the first functional category at the clauselevel, again anticipating developments in syntactic theory by a numberof years.  I left MIT for Stanford before Yehuda Falk embarked on hisdissertation.  It was a delight to renew our acquaintance in 1998 at theLFG conference in Brisbane, Australia, where he gave a paper.  Sincethen he became a frequent contributor to LFG, giving conferencepresentations in 2000 (Berkeley), 2001 (Hong Kong), 2002 (Athens),2003 (Saratoga Springs), 2004 (Christchurch), 2005 (Bergen), 2006(Konstanz), 2007 (Stanford), 2009 (Cambridge), 2010 (Ottawa), and2011 (Hong Kong). where I last spoke with him.  He was the moderatorof the LFG list since 1999. In 1999--2000 I sponsored his sabbaticalvisit to Stanford University, where he came with his wife Brandel andfour tall sons.  His daughter Pnina was not yet born.

At one time Yehuda remarked that he was the only linguist in Israel
working on LFG.  But he was not an isolate so much as a bridgebetween different linguistic schools. In the entire LFG community andthe ILFGA, Yehuda Falk was one of the few who did comparativesyntactic theorizing engaging the Chomskyan paradigm, therebyplaying a very important role in theoretical cross-fertilization andcommunication, one which was invaluable for students particularly, aswell as for researchers with broader perspectives in syntax.  Some ofhis works which evidence this quality include ``Resumptive Pronouns inLFG'' (Falk 2002), ``Pivots and the Theory of Grammatical Functions''(Falk 2000), and especially his textbook (Falk 2001).  This bookcontains a number of original analyses and theoretical developmentsnot published elsewhere and develops a coherent core of Englishsyntax, including an extensive and persuasive discussion of infinitivalconstructions and relative clauses in LFG.

Yehuda Falk's research addressed central and classic problems in
syntax---the limits of clause structure, the typology of agreement and
case marking, extractions and related dependencies, and the nature of
categories (the latter especially in Falk 2004, 2007)---within the LFG
formal architecture making use of unification, structure-sharing, and
parallel correspondence.  His technical mastery of this architecture
was superb, and his ability to express intuitive generalizations in an
appropriate formal architecture, of the highest quality.  There are
many linguists who do not really understand the formalisms they use;
they practice a kind of magical thinking about formalism, as Ron
Kaplan once put it.  Yehuda Falk understood.

At the LFG conference in Saratoga Springs in 2003 I heard Yehuda
present ``The English Auxliary System Revisited''.  I thought it was a
masterful synthesis of new evidence and theory, arguing for a mixed
system and comparing his approach with rival contemporary proposals
(including HPSG).  I was also impressed by his manner of presentation;
the paper was given with great clarity and charm, delightfully easy to
follow even in the intricacies of argument.  I recalled his interest
in acting in musicals.

Who would guess that Yehuda was not only a great lover of Broadway
musicals, but also a performer in them (in Hebrew)?  Yehuda's
star-sprinkled webpage displays his passion for Broadway and alsoreveals (less surprisingly) that he was a Trekkie. On those pages you will
see his bibliography which I have referred to above, very
selectively. And there too are a few biographical paragraphs about
his parents and his motivations for migrating from New York, where he
was born, to Israel.

Most of the LFG community met Yehuda when he was a man with a full
beard and a strict religious practice.  To me, Yehuda was always this
boy from Brandeis, one of my first students, very clever, very
curious. His sweetness and kindness were lifelong.


Linguistic Field(s): Not Applicable

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