It amazes me that Alan (and Jane, and Moira, and Joan, and Ray, and Edgar) so generously allowed me to hang out for a year at Brandeis, way back in 88. I’d been rejected from the program (for good reason), but the powers-that-were allowed me to visit for the year anyway, because I was so hellbent (I believe that was Edgar’s characterization) on studying tonal deficits in Chinese aphasics. Arriving in Waltham, I was in way over my head each and every moment as I tried to pass myself off as an adult. I was clearly the dumbest guy in the room, yet Alan always took the time to answer my questions; when we first learned about auto-segmental phonology, I remember sitting in his office one afternoon and confessing that I just don’t know what a segment looks like anymore. (Full disclosure: I still don’t.)
During one class, Alan went on one of his patented riffs and did a spot-on imitation of Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove”. He said, “Okay, name the director”. I loved the question because it wasn’t “name the character” or “name the actor” or “name the movie”; it was the director that mattered. I knew the answer, but I dare not open my mouth, because I was always too scared to say anything in class, even, finally, when I really did know the answer.
It’s hard to explain how important to my life those days were. Alan’s towering intelligence and his scholarship has loomed over me all these years. I was there at Santa Cruz when he and Paul presented OT; I savor a compliment he gave me after a talk of mine at NELS. His rejection letter telling me that I was not the right guy for the Rutgers job hangs proudly on the wall back home at my mom’s house in Nanuet, NY (really!), as it rivals my brother’s from the Curtis Institute as “the kindest rejection letter ever”.
Thank you so much Alan, for your support, for your rejection (really!), and for your remarkable scholarship. Enjoy your retirement.
Silverman, Daniel. 2015. Kubrickian Memories. In Short ’schrift for Alan Prince, compiled by Eric Baković. https://princeshortschrift.wordpress.com/stories/silverman/.