The persistence of proper names

Visit yesterday morning to CUNY 2011, the 24th CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing. At Stanford. Some other recent meetings: CUNY 2007 at UCSD, CUNY 2008 at UNC Chapel Hill, CUNY 2009 at UC Davis, CUNY 2010 at NYU (that was, at least, in New York City, though not at CUNY).

Well, yes, it started at the City University of New York and was held there for some years before it went on the road, taking its name with it.

Proper names are like that; they easily become opaque, unmoored from the circumstances that motivated them in the first place. This is obvious for personal and family names: no one expects someone named Rufus to be red-haired, or a family named Baker to be engaged in making bread, cakes, and cookies. They are, as we say, “just names”. So it is with other names: here, as elsewhere, etymology is not destiny and labels are not definitions.

Meanwhile, back at Stanford’s CUNY Conference, events began with the presentation of a Festschrift to the conference organizer, Tom Wasow: Language from a Cognitive Perspective: Grammar, Usage, and Processing (Studies in honor of Tom Wasow), edited by Jennifer Arnold and Emily Bender for CSLI Publications. The cover art:

The book is

a collection of papers on language processing, usage, and grammar, written in honor of Tom Wasow to commemorate his career on the occasion of his 65th birthday. Tom is a professor of linguistics and philosophy. But more accurately, he is a renaissance academic, having done work that connects with many different disciplines, including formal linguistics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, psycholinguistics, computational linguistics, and philosophy.

… [and] a tribute to what is perhaps Tom’s most lasting contribution to the field — the mentorship and inspiration he provided to his students and collaborators, many of whom have contributed to this volume. [from the Introduction]

I’m one of Tom’s collaborators (we worked in the fields of quotative all together), though not one with a paper in the volume. But of course I had to brave the cold, pelting rain — these are not nice days in unsunny California — to see him honored. And, even better, it was sprung on him as a surprise.


2 Responses to “The persistence of proper names”

  1. The Ridger Says:

    That looks like an excellent book. Unfortunately the CSLI website does NOT work but at least there’s a phone number for ordering.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The CSLI website works, in a sense. But the book hasn’t yet been officially released, so you can’t order it yet on the site. (You can pre-order it on Amazon, apparently.)

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