Morris Halle RIP

Updated April 6th with photos sent by Donca Steriade, and link to MIT news office article with interviews with Donca, Noam Chomsky and David Pesetsky.

Circa 2000

LSA Summer Institute, UMass Amherst 1974




Original post.

Morris Halle died early this morning, April 2, 2018. There is no official notice on the MIT Linguistics site yet, but Mark Liberman has posted this very nice RIP note on Language Log, which has started to gather some further tributes:

It seems that the Phonolist audience might be somewhat different from Language Log, so if you have anything you wish to contribute here, please do so.



8 thoughts on “Morris Halle RIP

  1. Joe Pater Post author

    As Eric Baković said in a comment to the Language Log posting, he was the reason we get to to do what we do. I was very glad to be a part of his 90th birthday celebration, especially to hear the reminiscences of his mentees. It became crystal clear in that moment just how much the field is built on a foundation he constructed, not only in terms of his intellectual contributions, but also in both the substance and style of his teaching.

  2. Bruce Hayes

    I’m so sad to hear Morris is gone. He was my dissertation adviser (1977-1980) and did a wonderful job in this role. With Noam Chomsky, Morris invented the right way to run a theoretical linguistics department:

    — Be around.
    — Take your students seriously.
    — Cultivate the art of friendly theoretical disputation.
    — Teach extensively and (sometimes) speculatively, giving your students a ton of hints for what topics they might profitably work on.

    I cannot overemphasize how much I benefited, when I was a graduate student, from Morris’s approach, and I always strive to live up to the standard he set.

  3. Stuart Davis

    I spent the 1985-1986 academic year at MIT as a visiting scholar having just completed my PhD and not able to land a job. I literally owe my career in phonology to that year in which I was heavily influenced by Morris Halle (and Donca Steriade) with whom I met with regularly. One March afternoon in the Spring of 1986 Morris and I walked together over the Harvard Bridge going to the green line. Since we were walking in the direction of Fenway Park, Morris was wondering about the prospects for the Red Sox in what was to be a fateful season. He then made an analogy between linguistics and baseball, which I still remember. “Linguistics is like baseball” he said, “not like tennis. In tennis, every shot has to be accurate nearly 100% of the time. In baseball, you are a star if you bat .300 and you can still be a professional even if you bat only .200.” While some may disagree with the analogy, I’ve always found it useful to keep in mind in trying to publish. You don’t always have to be right, but it is important to swing the bat since that is the only way you can get a hit. It was my privilege to have known him.

    1. Tim Halle

      I once asked Morris how often a paper turned out to be worthwhile.
      His response: “For the great ones, 1 in 10”.

  4. Eric Bakovic

    Can’t resist adding another anecdote here, one that I wrote on phonoloblog 8 years ago (

    I have nothing but respect and admiration for Morris Halle and his accomplishments. The (sub)field that I call home would probably not exist — certainly not in its current form, warts and all — without Halle, his work, and the work of his many students (all of them, not just and not excluding those who remain loyal to the rules-and-their-ordering program). Halle and his work have deservedly been fêted many times and in many ways: a Festschrift in 1973, another in 1984 (recently republished, with an “and” curiously added to the title), a recent conference, … — I could go on, but I’ll stop there. [See now Mark Liberman’s 2015 appreciation in the Annual Review of Linguistics,]

    My first face-to-face encounter with Halle was [23] years ago, at the “Is the best good enough?” syntax conference at MIT in 1995 […]. After my talk, Halle walked up to tell me he’d liked it. I thanked him, and then he said: “Tell Alan [Prince] that this stuff [OT] may work for syntax, but it won’t work for phonology.” (After 15 years, I can’t claim that this is a direct quote, but that was definitely the essence of it. I remember thinking at the time that I could interpret this comment either as a deterrent or as a challenge; clearly, I chose the latter.)

    1. Bert Vaux

      Thanks for pointing out the great pictures, Mary! Those are of Morris and Rosamond Halle and Osamu Fujimori.


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