Prince of Words

by Veneeta Dayal

One of the few things I never had any doubts about was my ability to express myself in writing — that is, until I met Alan Prince. I was coming up for reappointment as Assistant Professor in 1992 and had to write a research statement. This was quite a challenge as the idea of presenting myself, someone barely out of graduate school, as an established researcher did not sit well with me. Still, I thought I did a credible job of it and was totally unprepared for Alan’s comments. I won’t go into too many details, but suffice it to say, there had to be a complete rewrite. I was to remove all hedges like “I believe”, “I think” and to simply make the point I wanted to make, and while I was at it, to limit my use of the first person pronoun to a maximum of three. Obviously, the reappointment went through but the effect of that first sermon has stayed with me and even after all these years, I never approach that little word “I” without trepidation.

Those who know Alan will recognize in my little story the special relation Alan has to language. His sharp intellect comes through in every conversation and in every probing question he poses but what I find remarkable is the language in which the thought is expressed. Words and phrases that would sound strange in the hands of someone less gifted, flow naturally and add a certain je ne sais quoi to exchanges with Alan. He is perhaps the only linguist whose control of the English language I admire and envy.

Alan Prince has been at Rutgers since the inception of the graduate program in Linguistics and has made many contributions for which he will be missed when he retires next month. He has certainly earned the right to the autonomy that retirement will bring, but there is no doubt that life in the department will not to be the same without him.

Suggested citation:
Dayal, Veneeta. 2015. Prince of Words. In Short ’schrift for Alan Prince, compiled by Eric Baković.

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