A new address

noun address: 1 the particulars of the place where someone lives or an organization is situated: they exchanged addresses and agreed to keep in touch. … (NOAD, with some degree of vagueness)

No, not for me, for my department, and in fact for the whole university. From the Stanford Report on 9/18/19:


Serra Mall will be renamed Jane Stanford Way and become the university’s official address on Oct. 7, honoring the university’s co-founder and implementing a proposal that came out of a review of campus historical names.

The Stanford linguistics department. Look at the map. That big grassy space in the middle (which comes at the end of Palm Drive) is the Oval; across the top of the Oval runs what is still (for more two weeks) Serra Mall, on which lies the Main Quad. Open in the front, with walkways leading straight back to Stanford’s Memorial Church, and with front wings to the left and right. The piece of the wing that lies immediately to the right is Margaret Jacks Hall, Building 460, and on its first floor is located the office of the linguistics department (room 127, so its university-internal address is 460-127).

Here’s the whole business viewed on the ground, from Palm Drive looking towards the foothills (you can see the famous Dish quite clearly, amongst the live oaks), with the mountains lying behind them. (It’s a dry-season photo; the grasses on the foothills are golden brown, not the bright green they will turn when the rains come.)

(#2) Ranks of palm trees on either side, then the Oval (its grass kept green by daily watering), and open courtyards leading to Memorial Church; the three-storey building just to the right of the entrance is Margaret Jacks Hall, which houses (among other things) the linguistics department

Addresses. But what is the department’s address? If you look at the department’s website, it now gives, only, an absolutely minimal USPS address:

Stanford Linguistics, Stanford CA 94305

but then under contact information, it gives the building name and number and the department’s office room number; a zip+4 USPS address; two phone numbers; and an e-mail address:

Margaret Jacks Hall
Building 460 Rm. 127 [for short: 460-127]
Stanford, CA 94305-2150
Phone: (650) 723-4284
Fax: (650) 723-5666

There are three items here called addresses: an electronic address; a USPS address, which serves for the delivery of mail; and a Stanford-internal building address, which serves for people searching on the Stanford campus for this particular office and for delivery of Stanford’s interdepartmental mail. But none of these is in the form of the now-conventional prototypical address in our culture: a street address, consisting of a street name (findable on maps) and a house number picking out a particular building on that street. My street address is 722 Ramona St.; Stanford’s is (at least for two more weeks) 450 Serra Mall (after which it will become 450 Jane Stanford Way).

If you want to see me in person or have something bulky to deliver to me (by a delivery service), you need my street address; 94301-2547 will only take you to a set of mailboxes. If you want to send me a letter, you need to get to those mailboxes (via a USPS address), not my front door.

The Stanford situation would appear to be much more complicated, since the street address 450 Whatever  only gets you to the Main Quad at Stanford; the Stanford-internal building address is, in effect, a second street address, with the building number as the analogue of a street name and the office room number as the analogue of a house number. So if you want to see someone in the linguistics office or deliver an item there, you need the whole business: 460-127 at 450 Whatever. On the other hand, if you want to send mail to someone in linguistics, 94305-2150 will get it to the bank of department mailboxes, where the staff will put it in the right box.

In any case, no one expects the change from Serra Mall to Jane Stanford Way to cause significant problems, but if Ramona St. got re-named to, say, Dwight Bolinger St. (in honor of the Stanford linguist who once lived on the street), there would be a potentially rocky period in which delivery agencies wouldn’t recognize the street name. There would be similar problems if Building 40 got renumbered as Building 1885, in honor of the year of the university’s founding.

(Note: for a complex set of reasons, I work entirely from home and haven’t been able to get to the department offices for three years now, so don’t try to get anything to me there.)

My university. I speak of Stanford as my (current) university — I still have an emeritus appointment at Ohio State — though I have been merely a hanger-on there, in a series of ad hocly labeled positions: Visiting Professor 1985-2011, Consulting Professor 2011-17, Adjunct Professor 2017- present, with a recently made renewal until 2022. Still, I’m at the beginning of my 35th year hanging around at Stanford, which seems like some sort of landmark.

I do have to reapply periodically for my appointment to be renewed, and while my department enthusiastically supports me, I am always in great anxiety about what the administration might do; the things I write on this blog, and especially the links to my X Blog and similar sites, are a constant source of potential embarrassment to the university. So it was a huge relief to me when the dean came through on August 1st with an offer of reappointment, which I replied to immediately — at which point my department’s administrator (knowing my anxiety on the subject) rushed through the appointment, topped off with an official notice in print, all in under an hour.

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