The Pāṇini Intuition

Or how I stopped worrying about the grease, and loved the salami.

by Luca Iacoponi

Alan continuously provides us with a lovable harshness which pushes us in the right direction, even if by means of curse or a disapproving glare. This is the exact rigor that academia prides itself on, and so for that, we all clap internally for Alan.

Yes, this is a simple concoction resulting in the perfected Panini, but so too is it pivotal in understanding Alan’s psyche. I will tell you about the first time I met him — the first experience between the two of us, actually — in hopes of offering what I believe to be a partial explanation in unearthing Alan’s academic style.

The first time I met Alan was in the magnificence of Pisa. I can already tell that he’s not pleased with the retelling of this story, but I need to continue, because I finally did realize something after our walk through Pisa and the subsequent obscurity of his pocket stuffing. For, just as Alan has continuously offered us an innovative yet constrained perspective in linguistic theory, so too has he provided us with the incredible life lesson of modesty and intellectual rigour.

It was a delightful dinner. We had a Calabrese meal, talked of both nothing and yet, so too of the profoundest topics. I fixate on the Panini because it was the strangest experience of the day. Even stranger than the curses at the passing flower vendors.

At the end of our dinner, he wrapped up his Panini, half-chuckled in my direction with a wry grin and stuffed it into his pocket. What Alan still doesn’t know to this day, is, that the little maneuver he pulled, with the quick stuffing of his pockets, distracted me from most of the conversation for the rest of the night.

Tidbits of the following walk around the streets of Pisa emerge, but mainly the Panini, half-eaten, remains. It was staring at me through the whole walk back then. I thought: Why did he do that? Was it that delicious? Should I have eaten that last bite of mine? Was there a prize in the middle of that Panini? Was he that entranced by the Panini in the glory that is Pisa, or was he showing me something else?

I was bombarded by the wildest of assumptions.

But, as I was pondering still, what this move meant, I finally realized the lesson he was trying to teach me was all in the grease leaking out of that Calabrese salami.

That’s what I’d like us all to take away from the Alan experience. A man so noble and honorable, that even a Panini — of all things — wouldn’t be thrown away in dismissive judgment without an appreciation of its full characterization.

Flash forward 3 and ½ years, I still have the same admiration. So thank you Alan, we’ll continue to follow you into any theory with full force and effect! You’ve been exceptional as a mentor, and understanding, even when you wanted to curse a few of us out.


Suggested citation:
Iacoponi, Luca. 2015. The Pāṇini Intuition. In Short ’schrift for Alan Prince, compiled by Eric Baković.

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