The next best of all possible tree-worlds

by René Kager


Dear Alan,

You were one of my absolute linguistic heroes in my days as a grad student in the 1980s, as you still are today. While studying your ground-breaking articles on metrical phonology of that decade (my personal favorites being LI 1980, LI 1983; BLS 1985; CLS 1990), I could not avoid admiring your academic writing style, so distinct and unimitable, and often grotesque… No doubt the masterpiece of this genre is “Would-be wielders…” (Prince 1980: 524), which is cited in Bruce Hayes’ contribution. So I simply add a few more stylistic gems:

“Such forthright unanimity is most impressive in this world of tattered implications and fading subregularities. Linguistic theory ought to encounter the fact boldly.” (Prince 1980: 526)

“It is a rule of thumb of practical ontology that a thing exists to the extent that other things interact with it, make use of it.” (Prince 1983: 31)

“Recourse may be had to plausible Hilfshypothesen of various kinds; but such explorations must be left to those who share the intuitive vision behind the original proposal.” (Prince 1983: 55)

“Moving on to the next best of all possible tree-worlds, we look for a stipulation relating branching to labeling that is redeemed by its generality.” (Prince 1983: 57)

“Although explanation may not have vanished entirely, it is so diminished in scope that one guiltlessly begins to look elsewhere for an understanding of heavy syllable behavior.” (Prince 1983: 57)

“Stress is a kind of heightening of sonority; heavy syllables are intrinsically heightened; and – in the capitalism of stress assignment – them as has, gets.” (Prince 1983: 58)

“In this case, it could be said that tree theory is positively misleading as to the phonology of the situation.” (Prince 1983: 66)

“grid construction has been portrayed as operating on a pre-given first layer; perhaps it should work along ex nihilo instead, creating everything in its path, or perhaps even the metaphor of construction is not quite the right one.” (Prince 1983: 73)

“A refreshing directness is achieved if we allow ourselves to mention light syllables openly in rules of extrametricality. But this runs against the grain of Hayes’s idea.” (Prince 1983: 81)

“Reality, it turns out, comes perilously close to providing us with just this kind of system.” (Prince 1983: 82)

“We might be willing to tolerate a certain amount of hand-waving at this point, honoring the unarguable success achieved with the really difficult and puzzling cases (106b) and (106c)” (Prince 1983: 83)

“Since there is no reason for accentology, ramified or not, to recapitulate phonetics and tonology, the tree-theoretic approach is left entirely without motivation.” (Prince 1983: 95)

“Whether or not we can follow Liberman all the way into phonetics, it is clear that “accent shift” reduces to illusion and tonology. Tree theory illuminates neither.” (Prince 1983: 95)

“These proposals, and many others presented here, could fade in the ultimate light of truth, and our argument survive. But some, or all, could flourish in that same light, so let them stand forth to face it.” (Prince 1980: 560)

Alan, keep on going strong!

– René


Suggested citation:
Kager, René. 2015. The next best of all possible tree-worlds. In Short ’schrift for Alan Prince, compiled by Eric Baković. https://princeshortschrift.wordpress.com/poetry-prose/kager/.

 back to Poetry & Prose