ALT Junior Prize

Matti Miestamo matmies at LING.HELSINKI.FI
Fri May 6 10:11:52 UTC 2005

Dear Bernhard, Dear Fellow Typologists,

Earlier this week Bernhard Wälchli announced his decision not to accept
the ALT Junior Prize that has been jointly awarded to him and myself
(see the message quoted below). I very much agree with Bernhard on the
importance of cooperation among typologists. As we all know, there is a
lot of competition involved in the exercise of scholarship, and
competition, especially for academic positions, may lead to unnecessary
and long lasting problems in personal relationships between scholars.
So, I could not agree more, we should indeed do everything we can to
endorse cooperation and friendship in our generation of typologists.

I do not, however, see the ALT Junior Prize as an institution that
creates counter-productive competition -- nobody loses in this game
(contrary to what may happen when academic positions are at stake).
According to the jury, all entries in the competition were of a very
high standard, and I think we all agree that it is next to impossible to
find objective ways for measuring the quality of theses and saying that
one is better than another; another jury would probably have evaluated
the theses differently and announced different winners. Instead of
contributing to a competitive atmosphere and thus having a negative
influence on cooperation between typologists, the award can have a very
positive effect in making typology more visible for linguists of any
theoretical or methodological persuasion.

I applaud the suggestions that Bernhard makes. Writing a common volume
is a great idea, and I will be glad to accept Berhard's invitation to
co-edit such a volume. We postdoctoral typologists should really get
together and think about cooperative ways of promoting our results. The
suggestion to announce doctoral theses on the Lingtyp-list is also very
welcome, and I think it would be in everybody's best interest if
information on MA theses of strong typological relevance were also made
available to the community through the list.

I have mixed feelings about Bernhard's decision not to accept the award.
I respect the decision as a manifestation of a strong personal vocation.
By announcing his decision, Bernhard has also been able to draw
everybody's attention to the issues that he has taken up -- the
importance of cooperation and the practical measures he has suggested.
But I do also regret Berndhard's decision -- I think everybody would be
happier to attend two "junior plenaries" rather than just one, and
personally I would feel much better to share the experience with
Bernhard. Therefore I invite you, Bernhard, to reconsider your decision.
You have made an important initiative, your points are well-taken, and I
hope to see you in Padang where we can all get together and discuss
details of our future cooperation.

I would actually like to suggest that we start discussing these issues
immediately. Some of the people who sent their theses to the Junior
Award jury may already have contacted Bernhard, and I suggest that
everyone who has recently defended a typological Ph.D. dissertation (or
will soon finish one), and is willing to take part in these initiatives,
send a message to Bernhard, who can then create a collection of e-mail
addresses or a small mailing list where we can pursue the issues.

Best wishes to all,
Matti Miestamo
University of Helsinki

Bernhard Waelchli wrote:
> 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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