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  • In Memoriam, Stanley Starosta 1939-2002
  • Byron W. Bender

Stanley Starosta died on July 18, 2002, at age 62, of congestive heart failure. Thus ended prematurely a unique scholarly career,1 summarized as follows by his colleague, William O'Grady: "From an early point in his career, Stan chose to take on the linguistic establishment. While others believed that a sentence's organization came from syntactic rules, Stan believed it came from the properties of its component words—a view that eventually became part of the mainstream, incidentally. While others held that there were multiple levels of syntactic representation—a deep structure, a surface structure, a logical form, and so on, Stan insisted that there was just one level of structure. And that level of structure was not anything like what mainstream syntactic representations looked like. There were no V-bars—or even VPs, and no c-command or government either. It all came down to five simple case relations, as Stan saw it. For the most part these were not popular ideas and syntacticians being the type of people that they are, Stan had to endure considerable criticism and even scorn during his career. But that did not stop him. He attended and spoke at literally dozens of conferences around the world, always fearlessly putting forward his theory, challenging others to tell him why it wasn't right and why it wasn't better than what they were doing. And he didn't just analyze easy things—he took on the toughest phenomena that language has to offer: case, agreement, ergativity, long-distance dependencies, historical reconstruction, genetic relationships, European languages, Munda languages, Formosan languages, Philippine languages, Sino-Tibetan languages, Thai, Japanese, Korean, and so on. And he went up against the top scholars in the various fields in which he worked, time and time again, never hesitating and never retreating.

"Stan was an extremely decent person. From our first conversation, which took place on the first Friday of the 1985 fall semester at Mama Mia's (now Magoo's), it was clear that he and I were going to disagree on virtually everything. (That first conversation was about whether VPs exist, by the way.) For seventeen years, we debated and disagreed on just about every issue in syntactic analysis that ever came up. But there was never any nastiness in the debates, many of which took place publicly in front of students, during the three syntax seminars that we joyfully cotaught. In fact, Stan was fond of saying to the students that he wanted them to see that it was possible to disagree without being disagreeable. True, we pushed each other hard and we were harsh with each other's ideas, which we both felt was valuable and necessary, but that never prevented us from enjoying our weekly beer and peanuts together at Mama Mia's on Friday afternoons. [End Page 255]

"Stan was extraordinarily generous with students, especially those who chose to walk the less traveled path with him and explore the world of language through his beloved theory of Lexicase. Even in the 1980s, when I first met him, Stan was already legendary for the time and effort that he gave to students who shared his interest in languages and language, and were willing to work very, very hard. Many of those students have gone on to have successful careers of their own, and are able to transmit Stan's legacy to their students: work hard, be fair, check the facts, don't be swayed by the latest idea just because it's fashionable, and so on."

The Early Years.2

Stanley Starosta was born in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, November 28, 1939, the eldest of three sons. Oconomowoc is a town of just under 10,000 in the lake country of south central Wisconsin; the original family home was on Lower Nemahbin Lake. Stan's father worked as a pole crew foreman for Wisconsin Electric Power for almost 30 years before retiring. Stan's brother Noel, a year younger, is a machinist in Milwaukee. Stan's brother Bill (seven years his junior, currently Professor of Communication and Culture at Howard U.), reports that "it may be of interest...


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