ALT Junior Prize

Bernhard Waelchli bernhard.waelchli at ISW.UNIBE.CH
Tue May 3 07:58:44 UTC 2005

Dear "senior" and "junior" typologists

Yesterday I learned from the ALT Newsletter that Matti Miestamo and I
have been jointly awarded this year’s ALT Junior Prize. First of all, I
would like to congratulate Matti, and Oliver Iggesen, Hsiu-chuan Liao,
and Adam Saulwick, who were awarded honorary mentions. Neither will I
miss the opportunity to mention here that I was just lucky to have had
the supervisors I had (Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm and Östen Dahl).

Here I will explain why I do not accept the prize.

This does not happen by disdain of the jury, its president, the
president of the ALT, the organization committee of the ALT conference
in Padang, any ALT member, or the ALT as an organization. On the
contrary! If the ALT is useful for "senior" typologists, it is
invaluable for "junior" typologists and I appreciate very much
everything the "seniors" have done for us "juniors" starting from having
founded the ALT over supervising our theses and assisting us to get them
published until having created the Junior Prize. If I do not accept the
prize this happens by purely personal motives. I have a number of the
theses not awarded this time on my bookshelf in one row with my own,
consulting them more often than my own; I regret very much that I don't
have some of the others; and I deplore that I don't even know anything
about the existence of some typological theses. In my view, typologists
should not compete against each other in a world where there is still a
majority of linguists holding that their own native language is the only
fascinating subject of study. Rather we could still improve the flow of
information among ourselves. But most importantly, only if we "junior"
typologists are friends among ourselves as much as the "seniors" were
among themselves when they founded the ALT and stand together rather
than against each other (which does not exclude the great diversity of
opinions among typologists which is essential for scientific progress),
typology can have the future it can have. Please, do not misunderstand
this as a criticism of the Junior Prize as an institution, which it is
not. (After all, it is great for every "junior" typologist to know that
his/her thesis is read carefully by five "senior" typologists.) Neither
is this directed against you, Matti, I think you should go to Padang and
have a splendid one hour plenary talk there! But not accepting the prize
gives me the opportunity to make two suggestions here I could not make
otherwise. The first is a plea for a more active role of us "juniors" in
all this and the second one is a plea for using the ALT list more
actively for announcing new typological theses in the future. Thus, to
make this very clear, rather than saying that the Junior Award is wrong
I say that it could be supplemented by supporting measures.

First suggestion: I invite everybody having participated in the
competition for the Junior Award (2001-2004) to join me in thinking
about how we as a group could become more active in jointly promoting
the results of our research. My suggestion is that we write a common
volume, everybody contributing a short chapter about some more general
implications of his/her work rather than just summarizing his/her
thesis, which is, will or should be published anyway. I am sure there is
a market for such a book jointly written by typological doctors of four
years and if this should not be the case, this is bad news for
linguistic typology. I hope Matti would agree to co-edit such a volume.
But maybe somebody else has a much better suggestion what we could do.
Please, write to me directly rather than to the list. (I hope Bill
McGregor can send me the names of the other "juniors" if these are not
subject to data protection.) I hope very much everybody of the 13 joins
in (this is, of course, a gamble after perhaps having made everybody
angry with this letter, which is not my intention), and maybe somebody
knows some "junior" having successfully defended a world-wide or nearly
world-wide comparative linguistic Ph.D. thesis during 2001-2004, who has
not participated in the competition.

Second suggestion: I suggest that every newly defended
linguistic-typological thesis worldwide should be announced to the
community by the supervisor or opponent of that thesis by sending an
English abstract of that thesis to this mailing list. The advantages of
such a list policy for both "juniors" and "seniors" are so manifold that
I think it is not necessary to enumerate them here. (If there are just
13 in 4 years there is little danger of massive additional mailings on
the list.)

It remains to me to thank to all "seniors" in the jury having devoted
their time to the business of the Junior Prize and I am especially
grateful that they honor our work by asserting that all theses in the
competition were of very high standard.

Kind regards,
Bernhard Wälchli
MPI EVA Leipzig, University of Bern
waelchli at

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