Interview with the Visiting Professor Peter Cole
1. Please provide a brief outline of your training and scientific activity.
I was always interested languages, but I wasn’t an especially good language student in high school and college. It was only after graduating from college, when I lived briefly in Mexico and Venezuela, that became aware that there is a discipline called ‘linguistics’. Like a lot of foreigners living abroad, the only job I could find was teaching my native language, English, while studying Spanish. I also took a course in how to teach English as a second language. This course turned out to be my first introduction to linguistics because I needed to learn IPA and a little bit about English syntax.
Later, when I was living in Israel, I was hired as an English instructor at the institution that later became Haifa University. I came to understand that I needed an advanced degree in order to have a university career. At that time I was still thinking of myself as an English teacher, but I started taking courses in linguistics taught by various faculty members from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who were teaching courses in Haifa. Of course, living in Israel, I was learning Hebrew and becoming increasingly interested in the differences among the three languages I had some knowledge of, English, Spanish and Hebrew. It became abundantly clear that if I wanted to have a career at a university, I needed an advanced degree, and I could see that I was really more interested in the languages themselves than in language teaching as such.
I returned to the U.S. to study linguistics, and after completing an MA at Southern Illinois University, I enrolled as a Doctoral student at the University of Illinois. Illinois was very lively intellectually, and the faculty members were all recent Ph.D.s or ABDs. Although English was still central in Generative linguistics, there was a growing interest in other languages, including ‘exotic’ languages, and that fitted with my interests, so Illinois was a wonderful place to study. One good thing about Illinois was that although the department was a ‘Generative’ department, like nearly all American linguistics departments, it wasn’t MIT, and did not take the current MIT thinking as dogma. At times it was even-anti-Chomsky, but mostly both the faculty and students were exploring ideas that were later incorporated into Chomsky’s thinking.
I should mention one more aspect of my training. I spent the summer at the LSA Linguistic Institute at SUNY Buffalo, in a seminar taught by a young postdoc, Ed Keenan and a Buffalo philosopher, John Corcoran. The themes were formal logic in language and crosslinguistic comparison in syntax. I was very influenced by the latter theme especially.
2. Please state your reasons for choosing Venice and the Department for your research and teaching stay.
This will be my third visit to Ca’ Foscari, and I really feel as though the University of Venice is a second home to me. Researchers in the Department share my concern with approaching syntax by comparing languages, especially closely related languages and dialects. In addition, the theoretical approaches that are being explored in Venice seem very promising to me, and have, in fact, already yielded very important results. The comments and criticisms of my work have been very valuable to me as well.
3. Have you ever had a research collaboration with the teaching staff of Department of Linguistics and Comparative Cultural Studies in the past?
I have not co-authored papers or books with anyone in the Department, but, as I just said, I feel as though my overall research interests and those of several of the Venice faculty members are part of a larger project of comparative generative syntax.
Department of Linguistics and Comparative Cultural Studies