Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Chomsky, Noam. The 90th birthday of Morris Halle. (14 Jul 2013) MIT.

  Chomsky: The boss, Sound of laughter, opened this by saying that we should all be brief and I’m used to following his orders, unlike someone else I could think of.

  Like David over here, I’m here because of Morris’s Intervention. In 1955 I couldn’t figure out any way to hang around as a graduate Student any longer. I was out in the World. I had no profession, no credentials, no field. I had a book which Morris tried to get published by the MIT press, but they turned it down. [unclear] Morris did manage to find me a Job, in the Electronics Lab which was quite a trick for me. I had two positions; one was in the electronics Lab and I didn’t know the difference between a Radio and a Television. The other one was in the modern Language Department, which was even worse. The modern Language Department worked then, it was still kind of a long lag from the pre-World War II Period. There was kind of a lingering Belief that if you wanted to be an engineer, you had to know French and German. Go back where they started, they still had courses where they’d try to, you had to kind of get the graduate Students to fake their way through reading Exams in French and German but. There was a Routine for doing this and then they’d think their way through and they got a Good grade. I had nothing to teach so I was assigned teaching those courses which was kind of a problem because I don’t know any French, fortunately Morris was there so the evening before every class I would take the reading Assignment for the next day’s class. [Accurate.] Morris and I would go over it together and show me how to translate it, it usually worked. A couple of times I’d pick the Wrong assignment [Accurate.] and I had to fake it, I’d fake it the same way they would fake the Exams.

  Halle: And he made full professor.
  Chomsky: That’s how I got that Idea, otherwise I had no Intention of being in the academic World and wouldn’t do it. However, what was much more interesting actually is the way my wife got her first Job just to let you know. This was a couple years earlier, 1951 when we had just come up from Boston, my wife Carol was a 20-year-old Child, now I think it’s a child [unclear]. She came up, she never had a Job, just got out of College. She did a Job, I think, as a grad Student. Sound of elevator. Her professor then, where she was had a contact here in the modern Language Department, in the Language Department. Got the appointment, I went with her because she was nervous, we went to Building 14 where the modern Language Department used to be. I sat downstairs, Carol went upstairs, 45 minutes later and she was down trembling, and I asked her, how’d it go. She said she got the position, she was really frightened. She said that Department didn’t want to talk to her so they sent her to Faculty member to talk to her. The Faculty member was a stern, old man, he was really tough and he gave her a really hard time but he finally said she got the Job that was. Morris.

  We very quickly met when I picked my wife up from work she was in the same building that Morris was.
  The first time I met him we had a big Argument, kind of like what someone would describe. From the very beginning I was kind of intimidated, I stayed intimidated for the same set of Reasons. The first reason is very simple: Morris is 5 1/2 years older than I am. I have one sibling, younger brother, that’s 5 1/2 years younger than I am, and I know how I think about him.

  He stayed 5 1/2 years older than I am. That’s intimidating enough but the other thing is because what happens when. This happened to us over and over, we’ve been officemates since 1955 and did have time for arguments. We worked together and so on but this consistently happened. If we had an Argument, I was convinced that I had the Right Arguments and he’s convinced that he has the Right Answers, and when I think about it, it turns out he does have the Right Answers, I got to think of a different Argument. That Intuition is so overwhelming

  to happen over and over one of the earliest cases [unclear] kind of knock down Argument that Morris would use was back in the early 50’s the standard Topic. There was a method for doing that, I was convinced that must be right, that’s what I studied. Morris was convinced it was wrong and we had a discussion about it. He finally gave me an Argument which was completely compelling. He said Roman Jakobson, he knows his English perfectly but he makes imaginable mistake in Pronunciation with one exception: he always gets the Stresses and the Pitches right. There’s got to be some Rules there.
  Halle: It took us 12 years to figure it out. It took us 12 years to figure it out.
  Chomsky: Ever since then [unclear] wrong, the two of us [unclear]. That’s happened over and over, that’s almost intimidating as trying to take a walk with Morris [unclear]. Trying to keep up with him when he’s swimming is completely hopeless, so I’ve lived a life of Intimidation.

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