In memory of Ivan Sag

I’ve posted a conventional obituary for my friend and Stanford colleague Ivan Sag on Language Log, but here I’ll add some more personal touches.

I first met Ivan when he took my syntax course at the 1972 Linguistic Institute (at UNC Chapel Hill); his course project was on statives and progressives, a topic that he pursued at many points throughout his life. Immediately I was impressed by his broad range of interests and his enormous enthusiasm. Ivan had a zest for life that suffused everything he did, from linguistic research to rock music to volleyball, including arranging cooperative housing for many Linguistic Institutes.

Ivan was both convivial — a delight to be around — and collaborative. Look through the publications section of his vita and marvel at all the names in it: students, former students, Stanford colleagues, and linguists from universities and research groups all over the world. Ivan always had a collection of projects underway, most of them collaborative. On occasion, he could be hard to work with, inclined to be hard-driving and headstrong, but on balance his collaborations were enormously productive.

Even when publication wasn’t the goal of talking linguistics with Ivan, exchanges with him were thought-provoking and illuminating, and lots of fun. (For several years, he and I exchanged data on Verb Phrase Ellipsis and interpretations of the data, eventually intending to create an on-line data bank. But Ivan’s time ran out before we reached that goal.)

Ivan was an excellent teacher, at several levels; I sat in on many of his courses (mostly seminars) over the years. Always challenging, but with great good humor, and he was always willing to entertain alternatives and think through analyses on his feet.

There are publications now in press, plus several projects listed on the vita as in progress: on sluicing, phrasal idioms, and (solely authored) English auxiliary verbs (“Sex, Lies, and the English Auxiliary System”), another topic that Ivan returned to again and again over the decades.

Sorely missed, as several commenters have written.

[Added 10/15/13: Linguist List has now published a beautiful long obituary for Ivan by Geoff Pullum, providing both personal recollections and a detailed account of Ivan’s scholarly work.]

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