The C.L. Baker Award

On March 6th, the Linguistic Society of America announced the creation of the C.L. Baker Award (named in memory of Carl Leroy Baker, known as Lee), and on July 12th put out the call for nominations.

Lee, who died in 1997, was my first Ph.D., the first person to finish a Ph.D. under my direction, with the excellent 1968 dissertation Indirect Questions in English (at the Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign). Also a friend and a fine person (modest, gently humorous, earnestly principled, and humane).

News release from the LSA on 3/6/19:

The LSA is pleased to announce that the family of the late C.L. Baker has endowed a new award honoring excellence for scholarship in syntax. Baker was a long-time member of the LSA who served as an Associate Editor of Language, among other contributions to the Society (see his bio below for more details). The endowment gift of $25,000 will generate earnings to support a cash prize of $500, to be awarded at least every other year, to a mid-career linguist (preference given to those who are 10-20 years post-PhD) [who is an LSA member].

The bio:

C.L. (Lee) Baker (1939-1997) made important contributions to the study of syntactic theory and the syntax of English. At the time of his death, he was the Harold C. and Alice T. Nowlin Professor in Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin, where he had been a member of the faculty for nearly thirty years and served two terms as department chair.

Lee and his wife Mary

Baker’s work was notable for its careful treatment of empirical data, its lack of dogmatism, and its attention to larger issues related to language acquisition (e.g., in his 1979 article, “Syntactic theory and the projection problem”). He wrote two textbooks (Introduction to Generative-Transformational Syntax, and 1989 and 1995 editions of English Syntax), co-edited (with John McCarthy) a conference proceedings volume (The Logical Problem of Language Acquisition), and served in editorial roles for Linguistic Inquiry and Linguistic Analysis.  His untimely passing represented a significant loss for his family, friends, students, and colleagues, and for the profession of linguistics.

The call for nominations, sent on the 12th to members of the LSA, specifies that:

The prize is intended to recognize a distinguished and still unfolding research record in syntax, one which meets the following criteria:

  • it has had significant impact;
  • it is forward-looking and innovative;
  • it is empirically careful; and
  • it engages the larger intellectual context for research on human language and goes beyond the merely technical in its analyses and proposals.

Lee even has a paradox — well, a puzzle — named after him. From Wiktionary:

Baker’s paradox (linguistics): The apparent paradox that children learning English encounter many sentences amenable to dative shift (e.g. “give the book to me” → “give me the book”) but apparently have no way to learn that this is not possible with certain verbs (e.g. “*donate me the book” is unacceptable), and yet rarely make this kind of error.

Early days at UIUC. I arrived at Illinois just as its little linguistics program became an actual department, and I was much needed; during 1965-69 I served on almost all the Ph.D. committees in linguistics, as well as some in the two departments I had auxiliary appointments in, anthropology and English, and occasionally in philosophy and French as well. I sat on my first UIUC PhD dissertation defense committee in linguistics (for Austin Hale) just about a week after I defended my own dissertation; I was 25.

All of that was precocious, but the UIUC Graduate College had strict criteria for who could actually direct PhD dissertations (committees ok; MA thesis direction ok, and I did a fair number of those, but not PhD thesis direction by a fresh PhD), so though I was the de facto adviser for three dissertations, they were de jure Bob Lees’s advisees: first Lee, then also in 1968, Seiichi Makino’s Some aspects of Japanese nominalizations, and in 1969, Jerry Sadock’s Hypersentences.

Seiichi and Jerry are still alive — respectively, Emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies (in Japanese and Linguistics) at Princeton Univ.; and Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at the Univ. of Chicago.

Then, since I got into all this relatively young, my first students were all close to my age, some older than I was; Lee was a year older than me, Seiichi 5 years older (having been through graduate work in Japan before coming to Illinois), and Jerry only 2 years younger. Different times.

Morris Halle once twitted me for having had Lee as my first PhD advisee — just too easy — and indeed Lee was the least problematic of all possible advisees, needing only gentle guidance and periodic challenges to his ideas (and Seiichi and Jerry were almost as congenial) — a good thing, since my work load was very heavy indeed in those days.



2 Responses to “The C.L. Baker Award”

  1. Sim Aberson Says:

    Does linguistics have an academic family tree? Atmospheric Sciences has one ( I believe that the first one was in mathematics.

    I can trace my academic advisor lineage back to the 15th century.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      I thought I’d posted about this, but apparently not. Claude Boisson has done family trees for a number of linguists, including me; mine branches wildly, thanks to my involvement in Sanskrit studies, philosophy, and mathematics as well as linguistics; so it ends up in ancient Arabic mathematicians. Somewhat more narrowly, there’s a joint project of Ohio State and Texas – Austin to do academic family trees in linguistics (with accompanying interviews of prominent linguists); for complex reasons (mostly because I balked at filling out a stupid questionnaire for them), I will not be included in that.

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