Dick Oehrle; Morris Halle

While putting together a brief note on the death (late in February) of linguist Dick Oehrle, I got the news of the death this morning of Morris Halle (who was Dick’s dissertation director, and mine too).

(Dick was about 6 years younger than me, Morris about 17 years older.)

Dick Oehrle. June 18, 1946 – February 21, 2018.


Two notices about Dick: Mark Liberman’s Language Log obituary (with contributions by Tom Wasow) and Michael Moortgat and Larry Moss’s obituary for the Association for Logic, Language and Information, with this brief life summary:

Richard T. Oehrle (or Dick, as he was known to all) attended Harvard College, Columbia University, and finally MIT, where he obtained his PhD in 1976 for a thesis “The Grammatical Status of the English Dative Alternation” supervised by Morris Halle. Dick spent most of his academic career as a Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona in Tuscon. Before that, he held positions at Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania, and a visiting fellowship at Groningen University. Eventually Dick followed his wife Susan Steele to the Bay Area, where he worked as a computational linguist.

(Both notices have comments sections with extensive reminiscences and appreciations from others.)

Dick was formidably smart and also radiated great joy in life.

Morris Halle. Bare bones from his Wikipedia entry:


Morris Halle (Latvian: Moriss Pinkovics; born Morris Pinkowitz, July 23, 1923; died April 2, 2018), was a Latvian-American linguist and an Institute Professor and professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is best known for his pioneering work in generative phonology, having written “On Accent and Juncture in English” in 1956 with Noam Chomsky and Fred Lukoff and The Sound Pattern of English in 1968 with Chomsky. He also co-authored (with Samuel Jay Keyser) the earliest theory of generative metrics.

Halle was born Jewish in Liepāja, Latvia, in 1923, and moved with his family to Riga in 1929. They arrived in the United States in 1940. From 1941 to 1943, he studied engineering at the City College of New York. He entered the United States Army in 1943 and was discharged in 1946, at which point he went to the University of Chicago, where he got his master’s degree in linguistics in 1948. He then studied at Columbia University under Roman Jakobson, became a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1951, and earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1955. He retired from MIT in 1996, though he remained active in research and publication until his death. He was fluent in German, Yiddish, Latvian, Russian, Hebrew and English.

Halle was married for fifty-six years to artist Rosamond Thaxter Strong Halle, until her death in April 2011. He has three sons, David, John and Timothy.

Morris was a giant in the field, with an influence far beyond his numerous significant publications: he brought Noam Chomsky to MIT in 1955, oversaw the linguistics program there from its beginning (the first graduate students started in 1961), directed a great many dissertations (a fair number, like Dick Oehrle’s, in areas other than phonology), tirelessly lectured around the world, and challenged everybody to argue with him.

One Response to “Dick Oehrle; Morris Halle”

  1. Olivia Says:

    Thank you for posting this wonderful picture of my dad.

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