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Letters from ILCAA Affiliated Scholars 1

“Letters” from the members of ILCAA Affiliated Scholars are posted here.

ILCAA and me - past, present, and future

Prof. Dr. Bernard Comrie
Director, Department of Linguistics,
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Distinguished Professor of Linguistics,
University of California Santa Barbara
(Visiting Professor at ILCAA: 1993-1994)

My first close encounter with AA-ken was when I was invited to spend a sabbatical year there as a Visiting Professor in 1993-94. At the time, I was starting to rethink my earlier work on the typology of relative clauses, in part under the influence of Japanese linguist Yoshiko Matsumoto (now at Stanford University). AA-ken provided an ideal environment for me to pursue this research. On the one hand, I was able to deepen my understanding of so-called "noun-modifying clauses" in Japanese, a construction that corresponds not only to English relative clauses but also to a range of other English translation equivalents, including so-called fact-S constructions (like "the fact that the student bought the book"). On the other hand, I was also able to pursue parallels to the Japanese constructions in other languages investigated at AA-ken and by colleagues I met through AA-ken, such as Turkic languages (most of which turn out to be very unlike Japanese in this respect), languages of Southeast Asia (e.g. Thai and Khmer), Dravidian languages, and Ainu (with the latter groups showing at least many of the features of Japanese noun-modifying constructions). The ideas that I initially developed at AA-ken have continued to haunt me, and I am currently engaged in developing a large international project on noun-modifying clauses in Asian languages. My year at AA-ken was thus not only enjoyable and stimulating, but also gave rise to a lasting change in the direction of my research.

AA-ken and my own department at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) share many goals and interests, including language documentation (also through the construction of corpora) and the development of theoretical, especially typological ideas on the basis of rich cross-linguistic documentation. The new scientific cooperation agreement between the two institutes offers renewed scope for increased cooperation across our areas of mutual interest. In particular, I feel that our in part complementary strengths, both in language coverage, theoretical interest, and methodology, will enable us to achieve scientific results that would not be possible for either of us in isolation. I look forward very much to this cooperation, to renewing ties with old colleagues at AA-ken and forming new ties with younger colleagues, to ensuring that this is real cooperation, with all the hard work that that entails, but also leading to new scientific insights into the nature of language as manifested through cross-linguistic diversity.

From left, Prof. Tooru Hayasi (currently at the University of Tokyo), Prof. Makoto Minegishi, and Prof. Bernard Comrie at the party welcoming that year's incoming visiting professors (October 7, 1993).

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