The BSDR files

This posting represents the intersection of two posting topics that have pretty much gotten out of hand for me, so I’ll be extracting pieces from the larger material.

Topic 1 is the 1993 annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, at which I gave (on 1/9/93) my 1992 Presidential Address to the society, “Mapping the ordinary into the rare: Basic/derived reasoning in theory construction”. In trying to retrieve memories of the event, I discovered that my computer files for the paper (the BSDR files) were in a format that was inaccessible to me and that all my paper files had been destroyed. So I put an appeal out on 12/21/19, on several sites, for help in finding a copy of (at least) my (very detailed) BSDR  handout.

Topic 2 is recent gifts to me of many kinds: symbolic roses for me, in accord with a 1/29/20 posting of mine on a line from the Sacred Harp: “Give me the roses while I live” (SH340 Odem (Second)). I’m an old man, currently writing things under the Python Queen of Scots cry “Not Dead Yet”. I have been given some excellent roses.

One of these wonderful gestures to me was a reconstruction of the BSDR handout — with formatting preserved — done for me, purely in the spirit of colleagueship, by Luigi Talamo, now at the Univ. of the Saarland. Whose labors I will celebrate here, with some notes about Luigi and his interests. But first I exhibit his gift.

Background notes on the event. I’ll write separately about the setting for the paper, the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Something that is actually relevant for my paper is that I was the first openly LGBTQ president of the society. That fact is not in itself remarkable, since I’d been fully out as a gay man in the academic world for over 20 years at that point, though on this occasion my queerness was on display: I appeared appeared in a couple with my man Jacques Transue and we also hosted a huge OUT in Linguistics reception in the Presidential Suite at the Biltmore (an event open to all members of the society, so long as they were willing to be seen as gay-friendly). (It did seem to me that 1992 was awfully late for visible queerness, but, well, someone has to be first, and that just happened to be me.)

The lead-in. I was given an affectionate introduction by the secretary-treasurer of the society, Fritz Newmeyer, who happened to have taken some courses with me at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, many years before. And I warmed up the audience with an old academic joke, as amended in a telling to me by Jim McCawley. From the RationalWiki site, with “An old joke … Challenge: Demonstrate that all odd numbers greater than 1 are prime.” Responses by profession include:

mathematician: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, and 7 is prime. By induction, all the odd integers are prime.

physicist: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is experimental error, 11 is prime, 13 is prime, 15 is experimental error, 17 is prime, 19 is prime. The empirical evidence is overwhelming.

engineer: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is a good approximation, 11 is prime…

What Jim added was:

generative linguist: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 appears to be composite, but underlyingly it’s prime, …

The handout. Two pages, here in .jpg format; you might want to enlarge the images for easier reading.



(I hope to do a later posting on recent writing about the interpretation of same-sex sexual behavior in animals, but this is not the place for that discussion.)

Now, what Luigi Talamo did was to take a handout file I couldn’t read; find and use a copy of the software that it was originally written in (now long defunct); and produce a .pdf of the things, formatted just as in the original. (The .jpgs above are pictures of that.) A substantial amount of work and, from my point of view, sheer magic.

About Luigi. Luigi (of an age to be my grandson) is a recently minted PhD — from the Univ. of Bergamo (in a joint program with the Univ. of Pavia) in 2017: Nominalizations of Property Concepts: Evidence from Italian (an analysis of Italian de-adjectival nouns from a corpus-based and typologically oriented perspective), with Sonia Cristofaro as his supervisor. His Researchgate profile (lightly edited by me):

Luigi Talamo – Universität des Saarlandes | UKD Language Science and Technology

Luigi does research on lexical categories and morphology and has expertise in corpus linguistics; he is also very fond of linguistic typology. In the fall of 2019 he started working on a project of parallel corpora for cross-linguistic investigations with Prof. Annemarie Verkerk and since the spring of 2018 he has been working with Prof. Nicoletta Puddu on a corpus of Early Modern (16th-17th century) Sardinian. In his spare time, he tends to roses and other plants.

Where he is now, in the Saarland, a German region adjoining France and Luxemboug:


In e-mail, I asked him about his linguistic autobiography and (inspired by the gardening reference) about his interests outside of linguistics. I specifically asked about the Sardinian, because of its place in the Romance language family. From Wikipedia:

Sardinian or Sard (sardu/sadru, limba sarda or lìngua sarda) is a Romance language spoken by the Sardinians on most of the island of Sardinia. Many Romance linguists consider it the closest genealogical descendant to Latin. [meaning that its ancestral branch split off early from the main Vulgar Latin ancestral branch]

… [Sardinia eventually] became a Byzantine possession followed by a significant period of self-rule, then fell into the Iberian sphere of influence in the late Middle Ages, and eventually into the Italian one in the 18th century.

I’d wondered if Luigi was acquainted with the modern language, but it turned out that his experience of Sardinian was through Puddu’s Early Modern Sardinian project.

Then the body of his reply, which I’m reproducing here (untouched) with his permission, but with a few points flagged for notes by me (which Luigi hasn’t seen):

I grew up mono-lingual: my mother tongue is the regional variety of Italian spoken in Turin, which is very close to the national standard, except for a few gallo-italic syntactic constructions, simplified phonology and loanwords from Southern Italian dialects. I have learnt some French and English at school [FLAG 1]: as an undergraduate, I have studied Latin, Ancient Greek, some Coptic and two ancient Germanic languages, Old English and Gothic. [FLAG 2]

I have tried several times to teach myself languages spoken across summer holiday spots in Europe: Croatian, Turkish, Portuguese and Modern Greek, and outside Europe the Austronesian language of Madagascar, Malagasy. [more FLAG 2]

I am now struggling with German: because of the many Indian and East European computer science and computational linguistics post-docs, Saarland University is almost an English-speaking place, so I have little time to practice it. [FLAG 3]

Finally, I have been into plants since my early 20s: I am building up a collection of ancient roses in my country garden and I maintain a well-curated balcony with a small nymphaea [AZ: waterily] pond and some roses (at the present time this is mostly a long-distance gardening, since my gardens are in Italy and I am in Germany for most of the time). May I ask you if you are in gardening too? [FLAG 4]

FLAG 1. “Learnt some French and English at school”. And (something Luigi doesn’t say) walked away with considerable facility in both, allowing him to write things like the paragraphs above. It’s an educated (continental) European thing, especially among younger people, who pretty much take it for granted that they will move around in several languages (with varying degrees of facility in particular languages, but, impressively, with the sense that they should be adaptable).

FLAG 2. Academic linguists come in a variety of flavors with respect to their commitments to speaking languages. Some are by inclination polyglots, a few hyperpolyglots. Some (like Luigi) enjoy getting into new languages with a view towards achieving some minimal competence. Some (like me) primarily engage with languages as objects of analysis, maybe just one or two in great depth, or maybe a collection of little bits of knowledge about a huge number of languages. Many academic linguists have mixed tastes. It takes all kinds.

FLAG 3. Just a note about the role that, thanks to the economic and political power of the United States, English has taken on as a world / global language. So that even in the Saarland, Luigi has less motivation than he might otherwise have had to pick up German as his fourth language for everyday use.

FLAG 4. Gardening. Oh my, yes. See my Page on plant postings on this blog. But on roses in particular, as I’ve written here recently — in my 1/31/20 posting “Revisiting 41: roses for remembrance” — I’m not specifically a rose fancier myself, but both my father and my man Jacques were rosarians.

Thanks again to Luigi. And now in postings to come: more on the Biltmore in January 1993 and on other (figurative) roses people have given me recently.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: