In Memoriam Carlota S. Smith

Image of Carlota Smith with University of Texas tower

With great sadness we mourn the passing of Professor Carlota S. Smith. Professor Smith died Thursday, May 24, at the age of 73 after a long battle with cancer.

This page contains memories of Carlota from her colleagues, students and friends. We invite contributions: please send them directly to Alexis Palmer (alexispalmer@mail.utexas.edu).

A memorial service was held Saturday, June 2, 2007, at 4 p.m. in the Connally Ballroom at the University of Texas Alumni Center.

About Carlota Smith:

CHRONOS 8: International Conference on Tense, Aspect, Mood, and Modality was held in honor of Prof. Smith. The conference included a memorial reception and cocktail hour. The remarks made by Jacqueline Guéron at that reception appear below.

Obituary

Professor Carlota S. Smith of the Department of Linguistics at The University of Texas at Austin died Thursday, May 24 at the age of 73 after a long battle with cancer. She was the Dallas TACA Centennial Professor in the Humanities and taught at The University of Texas at Austin for 38 years.

Carlota Smith received her bachelor's degree from Radcliffe College in 1955. In the late 1950s, she became a research assistant and then a doctoral student in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. During this time she worked with Zellig Harris, who directed the doctoral dissertation of Noam Chomsky and who would also later direct her own doctoral dissertation. In 1961, Prof. Smith was a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, where she was one of the very first woman students to work with Chomsky. Prof. Smith's first publication (`A Class of Complex Modifiers in English', 1961) dates from this period. It appeared in the journal Language.

After receiving her M.A. (1964) and Ph.D. (1967) at the University of Pennsylvania, Prof. Smith joined the faculty of The University of Texas at Austin in 1969, where she was a faculty member in the Department of Linguistics until her death. She served as the chair of the department from 1981-1985. In 1991, she was named the Dallas TACA Centennial Professor in the Humanities.

Prof. Smith's early research examined the syntax of English. In 1969, she published, along with Elizabeth Shipley and Lila Gleitman, a very influential paper on how children acquire English as a first language; in ensuing years she would publish several more papers on child language development. Starting in the mid-1970s, she embarked on what was perhaps her most important line of research. In many papers and in a very important book (The Parameter of Aspect, published in 1991 by Kluwer), she analyzed the ways in which languages encode time and how they encode the way events happen over time. Prof. Smith's work on temporal aspect has been notable because of its empirical foundation in her careful analyses of a number of quite different languages, including English, French, Russian, Mandarin, and Navajo. Through her many years of research on Navajo, she became a member of the Navajo Language Academy, a group that seeks to further the study of Navajo, to keep Navajo from becoming endangered, and to provide training in linguistic research to members of the Navajo Nation.

In 2003, Cambridge University Press published Prof. Smith's second book, Modes of Discourse. This book analyzes the grammatical properties that distinguish different genres of discourse (e.g., narratives vs. reports vs. descriptions). In this book and in earlier papers (for example, a 1985 paper on the French author Gustave Flaubert), she sought to bring the analytic tools of linguistics to the humanistic study of literature.

Carlota Smith was an active member of the Department of Linguistics until the very last. This semester she taught a graduate seminar on time in language. She was meeting with students and faculty in her office just three days before her death. Throughout the semester she was thinking about how to ensure the future of the department in which she had taught for virtually her entire career. At The University of Texas at Austin, her absence will be felt for many years to come.

Prof. Smith is survived by her husband, John Robertson, who is a professor in UT's Law School. She is also survived by her children Alison and Joel, and by her grandchildren Sylvia and Ari.

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CHRONOS reception remarks

1.
Carlota loved working and living in France where she had many colleagues and friends. Among them were her close friends Andrée and Mario Borillo. Carlota had met Andrée at the University of Pennsylvania in 1967 when they were both studying under Zelig Harris. And I first met Carlota in the nineteen seventies when she spent a year in Maurice Gross's lab and visited Marseilles a lot to see the Borillos.

Carlota and I became friends immediately. We had a lot in common, our age, our background, the fact that we had both gone to Penn, our enthusiasm for generative grammar, and our attitudes toward work and life. We didn't see each other often but our friendship picked up where it left off every time she came to France.

2.
In 2005 I spent the spring semester teaching in the English Dept. of UT under an exchange program with the Institut d'Anglais, U. de Paris 3. Carlota and I renewed our friendship. I met her husband John and admired their beautiful home and their rich life, filled with poetry, together. Carlota and I had lunch together once a week. We organized a workshop in May of that year entitled "A Linguist looks at Literature" with support by the English Dept. The speakers were English professors Jackie Henkel, Tom Cable, Mary Blockley, myself, and linguistics professors Lisa Green, and Carlota, who spoke about "Discourse Modes in Joyce's 'The Dead'". Haj Ross and Rose-Marie Déchaine were our invited speakers.

3.
Carlota came to Paris in 2006 to speak at a colloquium on Narrative organized by Patrick Caudal at Paris 7. We had lunch together, but Carlota didn't tell me that she was ill. Together we planned another workshop of Linguistics and Literature at UT.
The workshop was organized by Carlota and Tom Cable under the aegis of the English and Linguistics Depts., and held on April 26 and 27, 2007. Liz Cullingford for English and Richard Meier for Linguistics welcomed the participants. Jackie Henkel, Tom Cable, Carlota and I spoke again and this time we had graduate student speakers as well, a good idea of Carlota's. Carlota gave the final talk, on "Aspectual Viewpoint and Point of View in Discourse". It was only at that time that Carlota told me how seriously ill she was. In spite of her fatigue, Carlota was not only present at every talk and at the receptions, but she made her usual pertinent encouraging comments to each speaker after their talk.
Neither of us realized that she had so little time left. We continued to make plans. I offered to organize a workshop on Discourse in Paris in the fall of 2007 and Carlota accepted to speak at it.

4.
Following this important Chronos colloquium in Carlota's honor, I still plan to hold the more modest workshop on discourse, for Carlota, in Paris. At UT I hope that the English and Linguistics Depts. will continue the collaboration in Linguistics and Literature, to both of which fields Carlota has contributed so much.

5.
Reading the very moving testimonials given at the memorial for Carlota and on the net, I learned how widely appreciated Carlota was for her brillant and curious mind, her loyalty to family and friends, her generosity to students, her moral stature and personal dignity, her beauty, grace and elegance. I feel that some of Carlota's moral qualities show the influence of her father, who was an idealistic man and an active and courageous political figure

6.
I thought that Carlota and I had a special friendship, and we did. But as I read the testimonies, I realized that Carlota inspired many special relationships. With all her discretion and a rare quality that the French call "pudeur", Carlota was in fact many people at once, the scholar and friend I knew, a devoted teacher, a loving wife and mother, and a person open to the entire world who was just as curious about travel and the joys of living as about linguistic science. I thought of the description of Cleopatra which Shakespeare put in the mouth of Enobarbus, how it was so fitting for Carlota: "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety." Discrete though she was, Carlota was also larger than life: she intuited what each of the people close to her needed and she gave it to us fully, while still leaving plenty of time, understanding and love for the others.

7.
When a person leaves too soon, we have regrets. While I was reading or rereading some articles of Carlota's to appear in a book being edited by Richard Meier, Helen Aristar-Dry, and Emilie Destruel, in particular, her pioneer 1978 Linguistics and Philosophy article on "The Syntax and Interpretation of Temporal Expressions in English", I was struck by how original, profound, and inspirational that article still is. I regret now that I never said to her out loud "Carlota your work is an inspiration for me and for all linguists." But Carlota knew so many things about linguistics and about people that I hope she knew that too.

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Memorial service


A memorial service was held Saturday, June 2, 2007. It was a lovely, elegant celebration of Carlota's life. Below are transcripts of the speeches given at the service. An audio recording of the service has been posted on the web.

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Carlota Smith was born on May 21, 1934 in New York City to Charles and Sylvia Shipman. She received her B.A. from Radcliffe College and her Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania. She taught in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin from 1969 until her death on May 24, 2007. She leaves her husband, John Robertson, her daughter Alison Smith, her son Joel Smith, and her grandchildren, Sylvia and Ari.

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Judith Langlois gave a welcome and introduced each speaker in turn. Judith gave single white roses to each speaker and to Carlota's two grandchildren.

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Alison Smith spoke next.

Until recently, my mother was never sick a day in her life, with the exception of a bout of hepatitis in the 1970's when we were in France. She liked to say that she had the constitution of a rhinoceros. So when she came to visit us in Boston in May of 2005, we were all puzzled by her "large tummy" as she referred to it. She showed me how she could no longer zip up her pants and we laughed about how strange this was. Since she was so healthy and always took such good care of herself, my mother had what she called "the 2 week rule"; she would never go to doctors until 2 weeks had passed, since whatever it was usually healed on its own. She confessed in this case, however, that the "large tummy" had been going on for 2 months. She agreed when she got back to Austin to finally go to the doctor. We thought it might be something like gall stones.

In fact it was fourth stage ovarian cancer -- "the silent killer", as a friend of mine referred to it. She and John and her dear friend Judy Langlois went to Houston, to MD Anderson for a consultation where she was told she probably had 2 to 3 years to live. And then she went about living her life as she always had, bravely, with as much energy as she could muster and with no moment for self pity or weakness. She had an operation and then began receiving chemotherapy, which she underwent for more than a year and a half. She lost all her hair and got two wigs. She would often astound us by cramming more in a week than most people do in a month. We worried that she was overdoing it -- and various friends had to tell me, when John and I would want to scale back her numerous activities, that she was doing it "her way". During those last 2 years, she managed to teach her classes, to get to Paris twice, a city she loved, to New York, and she ever visited me last year on my 49th birthday in Boston. Her beloved husband John was extraordinary throughout her illness, caring, tender, and there 100%. She called him "MFC" -- "my favorite chelah" -- which refers to the main character in Kipling's book "Kim", who takes care of and protects the infirm holy man.

On Mother's Day, my brother and I visited our mother in Austin for a very special weekend. We wanted to take her to the Four Seasons for brunch; she preferred to go for a hike at Pedernales Falls. She turned 73 on May 21st, and this week we were all planning to meet in New York with old friends from our early childhood years and to go to dim sum, which she loved.

As she said in an interview with Richard Meier and Keith Walters in July 2005:

"I had always liked Chinese because of Chinese restaurants when I was a little girl in New York. My father was very interested in things Chinese and we went down to Chinatown about once a month and had dim sum... Everyone in the restaurant knew us. The men used to make little animals for me out of the dough that you make dim sum with...

So I had a long and very pleasant association with it."

For part of my life, my mother was a single mother. She and my brother and I were very close. We had difficult periods but they passed. My mother always had a group of close women friends who were often like aunts to me, since she was an only child. There would always be lots of laughter and camaraderie.  This ability to connect with all kinds of people and bring them into our lives was a real gift my mother had which she passed on to us. She also passed on her gusto for life... when she was dying I said to her, "Mum, is there anything you want"....
and she responded, "I want everything."

I have spent much of this past week with photographs of my mother, preparing with my brother for the slide show that you will see. Someone wrote on a card to us that my mother was beautiful "inside and out" and she was. We loved her very much and you will see a record of her life in images, right after Joel, my brother, finishes his remarks.

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Joel Smith spoke next, and then Alison and Joel presented A Life in Pictures, a slideshow of images from Carlota's life, from early childhood through May 2007.

My Mum

I know all our hearts are full of sadness. These recent days have been very hard as we grapple with our mother's death and her very real absence. She was just here, and is still very much with us.

Her absence is felt all the greater, for while she was fighting her sickness these past years, she also continued to live her life just as fully as she could - teaching her classes, traveling - for work and vacations, all the while sharing her life and energy with her colleagues and friends, her family, and with John.

For me, this energetic embrace of life is what made our mother such a wonderful and special person.

One could not help but get caught up in it, this energy, which was sprinkled with her own beautiful mix of grace, caring, generosity, interest, integrity, openness, and love.

Her beautiful spirit, and our love for her make this day of reflection a time when we can also celebrate her life, and our times with her.

In talking about my mother, I would be remiss if I neglected to touch on her wonderful cooking. I know that many of you here have had the good fortune of eating my mothers' delicious cooking and sharing meals with my mother and John, and of course spending time with her, helping while she chopped and cooked -- which was truly a delight, and yes, Alison and I got to eat these meals all the time.

However, one of my very earliest recollections of her cuisine was of a particularly nasty bout of hives, induced, we think, by eating way too many of my mother's delicious onion rings. This eating too much of my mother's great food was of course to continue, Aunt Anna's recipe for chopped liver was my next indulgence, and fortunately there were no hives that time.

Now just so you don't think our tastes were too refined when we grew up here in Austin in the late 60's, we were indulged and did have Kraft Space Sticks in the house along with powdered Tang.

Our mother enjoyed the love and caring of a meal shared together. In the early 70's when Alison, my mother, and I all lived in Paris together, my mother always wanted to make sure that we could have dinner out one night a week -- to make sure we had a special meal together -- and we would go together to a little Vietnamese restaurant down the street (that is, if Alison wasn't protesting in the streets of Paris that night).

This quality in my mother -- of making an effort -- is something that I know you are all familiar with. She was a caring and generous hostess, and loved to cook, experimenting with meals all the time, especially delighting in her new beautiful kitchen.

She was someone who of course loved special cheeses, patés, and champagne, but she was also my Mum who loved driving all over central Texas with me and my wife, Rosemary, to try different BBQ ribs, sausage, and brisket, sharing carnivorous delights. It was something we enjoyed together -- something we shared.

She was someone who loved to share your moments with you, your interests, your loves and your dreams. When we talked on the phone, I would tell her where I had walked, what new little restaurant I had tried out in New York. What my wife Rosemary was up to, and how her little grandson Ari was doing. She was interested in all of us.

She was always interested in new and different things -- just 3 weeks ago we watched part of a new Spanish film together, but she was too tired and went to bed, but the next day she watched it and emailed us to say how special she found it, and that she had enjoyed it so. I want to read you this email she sent to us after our Mother's Day visit:

        Dear Alison and Joel --
      
        It was a wonderful visit - I still feel a glow of warmth and fun.  You are not only my favorite, wonderful children, but also you are
        both very good company!!!  THANK YOU THANK YOU for coming, and for the delightful birthday gifts.

        I watched the rest of "Volver" last night, while John was looking at one of his games -- really a special movie I think. Almodovar
        manages to convey a feeling for the life of women, an appreciation of the small things of life, that's unusual. I want to know more
        about the sister, and the woman with cancer - what happened to them exactly to circumscribe their lives? etc.  Do you have the
        names of any other movies I should watch?

        I feel a little better today, am hoping finally to get something done on my list of to-dos, then will have acupuncture in the afternoon.

        love & hugs
                   your
                      Mum

One of my mother's greatest gifts was this desire to share with you what was special to you, and derive joy with you in that shared moment together.

My mother lived her life in a way that was wonderfully rich, full, and varied. She loved her family and would dash in for a quick visit to Corning or Boston, and as you all know, she loved her work very much. She enjoyed reading dense novels, but she also loved a mystery in bed (hopefully not keeping up John). She loved the outdoors, and really loved going on long walks -- enjoying the exercise and the beauty around us. Just three weeks ago we all went for a beautiful walk to Pedernales State Park on Mother's Day. For us all, that was a special day together.

There have been so many people who have been there for our mother over these recent difficult years, and we thank all of you deeply. Throughout my mother's illness, you have been there for both my mother and John, and I know your warmth and generosity reflects your love for our mother.

And John, I want to say thank you for the joy and richness you brought to our mother's life. Your love for her has been a great thing. We're so happy you found each other, and we know how happy Grandy would have been as well.

In closing, I want to say how proud I am of you, my mother. Your life was sometimes very hard, but your spirit prevailed, and your parents would have been so very proud of you too. I know we are all feeling blessed that you touched our lives with your love and energetic spirit. Thank you Mum.

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Recollections and Remarks.
Mary Ross Taylor is a long-time friend of Carlota's. She spoke next.

It would be impossible to speak for Carlota's friends -- we are so many and so various. I speak as one of many friends gathered here today.

Carlota and I met soon after I came to graduate school at UT in 1969. Though I did not take her Syntax courses, the department was small and we were neighbors in Westlake Hills. We became friends, and then better friends even though I left Austin, and left Linguistics. Her friendships extended in many directions, so one of the perks of knowing Carlota was that she introduced you to a lot of interesting people.

Some years ago I was on the ferry to Martha's Vineyard to visit Carlota, who decided to send her future son-in-law Alan to fetch me. We had never met. When I saw all the people on the dock waiting to get on the ferry, I thought "We will never find each other!" But rather quickly he appeared from the shoving crush of people and said "You must be Mary Ross." "Alan!" I said, "How did you find me?" I was wearing a black t-shirt with Our Lady of Guadalupe on the front in neon pink and green, and a large Day-Glo yellow backpack, and my hair would have been up in spikes. "Well," he said suavely, "When I saw you I said to myself, that looks like someone that would be a friend of Carlota's."

She had a great gift for sizing up situations and responding with speed and shrewdness. I loved to ask her advice and it was a great gift to me. She was a woman of action as well as thought. During one of her teaching sojourns in Paris, I was passing through with a former student of hers, and we planned a dinner outing. It was somewhere obscure, so we took the car and a map, but the map was not the territory. Streets turned one way against us. Official sawhorses barricaded the alternatives. We ended up completely stymied. I do not recall whether Carlota said "I have an idea," but we jumped out or the car and removed the barricade. So we made it in time for that dinner reservation.

Carlota was clear about her loyalties and she did not compromise them. She was loyal to her family, her friends, and to the Linguistics Department. After one stay in Paris she found that the students who rented her house had left it in an unsatisfactory state. She was especially unhappy that they had neglected the yard, which she declared was full of weeds. When she pointed out the worst to her daughter, Alison said, "Mummy -- those aren't weeds. That is marijuana." It was the biggest, tallest, greenest bed of marijuana you ever saw. This news was greeted with glee in some quarters, but Carlota was resolute. It could not stay. It could not be helpfully carried off by anyone she knew. "Absolutely not," she said. "It would not do for a professor in Linguistics to have marijuana growing in the yard." And before any discredit could come to her department, the weed disappeared.

Carlota was interested in the unfamiliar, and she made the most of it. This made her a wonderful traveling companion. She joined a high spirited Houston group in New York for some opening or event that I've forgotten. What I remember is that afterward, we set off for the disco of the moment, in the height of the disco days. Carlota muttered to me when we arrived that she probably looked like the chaperon. When a stranger asked me to dance, she waved her hard, "Go, go." Shortly, I looked back for her, and she had disappeared. When I saw her next, she was on the dance floor with another stranger, her purse neatly over her arm, just like the Queen.

Elegant, resourceful, principled, and interested in new possibilities. Carlota talked of new plans and new adventures from the day I met her till the day she died. Her love of life is a legacy to all her friends.

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Recollections and Remarks.
Following Mary Ross, we heard from Richard Meier, chair of the Department of Linguistics at UT Austin.


Carlota led an exemplary life, a life well-lived until her final hours.  A life that will be well-remembered by her family, her friends, her colleagues, her students, and by generations of intellectual offspring who through her work will come to know her mind and her intellect.

I met Carlota in 1986, when she was on sabbatical at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in the hills overlooking the Stanford campus. The Center was an environment in which Carlota would have thrived; scholars from a variety of disciplines in the behavioral sciences brought together in one bucolic place.  More than almost any of us she could hold her own in a range of disciplines.  Witness her longtime interest in the cognitive sciences and, very recently, in applying the techniques of linguistic analysis to our understanding of literature.

That same semester Peter MacNeilage (along with Björn Lindblom) were also at the Center.  At the time I was applying to be an assistant professor here at UT, and my wife Madeline was applying to Spanish & Portuguese.  After my campus visit here in Austin, I then had a second interview with Carlota and Peter on the terrace at the Center.  I don’t remember much of the conversation other than that it was very pleasant; I do remember the view looking out to the south end of San Francisco Bay.

Since that interview—and since being offered the job here—Carlota has been one of my very closest colleagues and friends here at UT.  Most every day brought a substantive conversation about the state of the discipline, or the state of the department, or the state of Austin restaurants. This last week was more difficult than any week I could imagine as department chair.

In July 2005, soon after her cancer was diagnosed and soon after her surgery, Keith Walters and I interviewed Carlota about her career in linguistics.  As most of you can imagine, it was a fascinating and wonderful interview.  A lot of what I’ll have to say here draws upon that interview….
 

Carlota’s start in linguistics did not come in Cambridge, MA when she was an undergrad at Radcliffe.  Instead her start came in that hotbed of linguistics that we know of as suburban Philadelphia.  In the late 1950s, both she and Lila Gleitman were faculty wives at Swarthmore College. Neither Lila nor Carlota was content to ghost-write their husbands’ books.

It seems that Lila—who was still a very junior grad student at Penn—decided that Carlota would be an appropriate RA for Zellig Harris.  Harris had directed Noam Chomsky’s dissertation and would later direct Carlota’s dissertation.  Here’s what Carlota had to say about this in the interview:

[Lila] marched me down to Penn, introduced me to Zellig Harris, and I was hired for the summer to be a research assistant. And my job, which I was perfectly capable of doing was to categorize English verbs for Harris’s research project, which was in principle on mechanical translation. This is whatever we are – we’re in ’59 or ’60 now.[….] So I knew nothing about linguistics, and I loved it!

 
In 1961, Carlota found herself back in  Cambridge, MA, but this time at MIT, not at Harvard.  At MIT she was the first woman to work on generative linguistics with Chomsky.  The result of that year at MIT was her first publication, a paper in the journal Language that examined the syntax of English.  A  further publication appeared in Language in 1964, and then her dissertation in 1967.

In 1969 she was searching for teaching jobs. She apparently sent her first inquiry about a job here at UT to David Hakes, who was then a faculty member in Psychology who worked on language acquisition.  The connection to David Hakes was a natural one given Carlota’s own work on language development in children.  Along with Liz Shipley and Lila Gleitman, she published in 1969 an important and very early experimental study of children’s comprehension of language.

The contact with David Hakes was fruitful. In quick order she was offered a position as a “faculty associate” on an NSF faculty development grant that also brought Harvey Sussman to UT that same year.  Harvey sent this to me this morning:

 [Carlota] was my first 'office-mate' when I first came to UT in the summer of 1970. Though she would have preferred someone a bit closer to Noam, she was stuck with me. I most recall her quiet gentleness, her always present grace, and her dignity. We were the odd couple, but we made the best of my linguistic ignorance. She transformed me into her personal informant  always asking me to judge grammaticality of sentences.

 
Carlota was soon offered a tenure-track position  here.  She spent the year that she was up for tenure in France.  Some of the assistant professors here might enjoy the tenure year better if they too were in France.  Perhaps Bill Powers or Randy Diehl would like to consider this as a possible reform to the tenure process.

While in France, Carlota became interested in the way languages encode time.  The reason was, as every student of first semester French knows, English and French—despite their close ties—differ substantially in their systems of tense and aspect (although first-semester students of French likely don’t know those terms).

Tense refers to whether an event occurred in the past, present, or future.  Aspect refers to how events happen over time.  Is the event viewed as a whole or only in part?  Was the event instantaneous or did it unfold over time?  What could be more important conceptually?  How is that we talk about the times of our lives?

Her first publication on tense and aspect appeared in 1975 and she continued to explore the topic until the end of her life.  In 1991 she published The Parameter of Aspect, the most influential publication of her career.  In 2003 Cambridge published her second book which is entitled Modes of Discourse.

My colleagues Steve Wechsler and David Beaver recently observed that Carlota “spearheaded a fundamental transition of formal semantics into an empirically rich linguistic discipline. [Carlota’s work] was the first sustained attempt to apply formal semantics comparatively across multiple unrelated languages, and non-Indo-European languages in particular….”  She worked on a remarkable span of language: Mandarin, Navajo, English, French, and (in collaboration with Gil Rappaport) Russian.

My colleague Nora England noted that Carlota’s work was tremendously important for linguists who are seeking to document the world’s under-described languages, many of which are quite endangered.
 
Carlota remained an extraordinary intellectual presence in my department until her last day in Calhoun Hall, which was just three days before her death.  Even after she became ill she was finding new research interests, particularly in computational linguistics where she worked with my colleagues Jason Baldridge and Katrin Erk.  In many respects the last few years of her life were the ones in which she was most intensely involved in mentoring doctoral students in linguistics.  The graduate seminars she taught were remarkably successful. And even in the last week of her life she was pestering Bob King with email about how double negation works in Germanic languages.
 
We in Linguistics will continue to be inspired by her intellect—and we will continue to have access to it through her papers and books.  Her personality we must remember. Here are the words that I have found in my email this last week:

            generous

            brave

            vibrant

            lively

            joyous

            grace

            dignity

These were the way Carlota was until the very last.

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Recollections and Remarks.
The next speaker was Alexis Palmer, a graduate student in linguistics who worked very closely with Carlota.


I feel very honored to be standing here today as a representative of the many students whose lives were in one way or another touched by Carlota Smith. She touched us as a teacher, an adviser, a careful and critical reader, a mentor, a supporter, a friend, and a loved one.

Carlota treated us not so much as inexperienced students but rather as fledgling colleagues, with plenty still to learn but also plenty to contribute. I-Wen Lai wrote from Taiwan about an email exchange she and Carlota had over spring break this year. I-Wen and Carlota had been discussing tense in Iquito, an Amazonian language I-Wen works on, and Carlota emailed to say that she had been thinking about a term for one of the tenses in Iquito. Carlota wrote, "... I suggest this term ... but I am not too happy about it, perhaps you can think of a better one." With simple words like these, Carlota had a way of dissolving anxiety and encouraging us to pursue our work with rigor, enthusiasm, and confidence. I always trusted Carlota to tell me just what she thought of the work I was doing -- whether good or bad -- and rather than delivering criticism in a disheartening way, she treated us with sufficient respect to expect that we would benefit from the criticism and produce better work as a result.

Perhaps one of the reasons Carlota so loved working with her students is that we helped to feed her life-long passion for learning. As Ben Hansen described it, hers was a "delightfully agile and expansive intellect." Over the past week I have heard from students doing work in many different subfields of linguistics of the interest Carlota showed in their work and the generosity and thoughtfulness with which she provided her input.

We benefited too from the breadth and depth of her experience as an academic -- she had a talent for putting things in perspective. I'd like to tell now some of what I heard from Nick Gaylord about their many debates on questions of syntactic theory. Carlota, familiar as she was with such a long history of linguistic scholarship, had a very keen sense for how long-standing some of the supposedly "current" problems in linguistic theory really are. Nick says: I remember more than one of our discussions that ended with her pursing her lips and saying, "well, I just don't really see what the big deal is. Isn't that just the same thing that so-and-so said 40 years ago?" He goes on: And she'd proceed to hand me some old article I'd never even heard of, and sure enough, she was usually quite right.

This talent for putting things in perspective also came up outside the purely academic realm, and here I share some words from Jessica White, who by the way is due tomorrow and is here today. Carlota was at the vanguard of women in academia who also chose to be mothers, paving the way for all of the women in our department who have had, or will have, babies while pursuing graduate degrees. Consider the rigors of being in grad school, a single mother of two, and the fact that this was the early 1960s, before the second wave women's movement had achieved so much that we now take for granted. Jess is just one of several women in the department who Carlota encouraged in their life choices by sharing her own experiences. It's because of Carlota and women like her that it's even a possibility for women of our generation to choose to pursue an academic career while being a mother.

Personally, I flourished working with Carlota because I felt from her a continuous sense of acceptance, encouragement, and a faith in my abilities, my ideas, and my identity as an independent scholar. Several years ago, I was at a point of low confidence and great uncertainty, and somehow, gently, she got me talking about what my strengths were as a linguist and a scholar. As time went on, and I began to see more clearly where I was going, I always felt that she was there in my corner, cheering me on. I felt that she was always happy to see me, always glad to take a moment or two to chat. One day recently I marveled at how things had turned around and again, simply, matter-of-factly, she said, "well, you just finally found the right thing to be working on."

Finally, and most importantly, I want to talk about Carlota as a role model, as an inspiration. As graduate students, we're going through this very demanding yet very exciting time of laying the foundations for an academic career. We're just starting out, and in Carlota we had an example of someone who was well along the path and still loving every minute of it. When we first learned of her illness, it wasn't clear how things might go. I imagined how I might react in the same situation, and I thought I might want to stay home and in bed, or move to the Caribbean, or anyway that linguistics is the last thing I would want to be doing. I realized soon enough that Carlota continued to work not out of any sense of obligation -- that working was what she should be doing -- but rather because it was exactly what she loved to be doing, exactly where she wanted to be. We were tremendously fortunate to have had Carlota in our lives, and we will miss her profoundly.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Carlota's husband John Robertson was the last speaker.

I am riven with grief, but gushing with gratitude. To all the family and friends who gave so much love and support to Carlota and to me during her illness and now.

The friends I will mention, without any attempt to describe their heartfelt contributions: Jane Stern, Judy Langlois, Louise Menlo, Mary Ross Taylor, Mike and Sue Sharlot, Mitch Berman and Ingrid Johanson, Dick and Inga Markovits, Richard Meier, Alexis Palmer, Willy Forbath and Judy Coffin, Jolyn Piercy, Aletha Huston, Nora England, David and Sarah Stromeyer, Zipporah Wiseman, Anne Lewis, Andy Rogers, Virginia Carmichael, Cynthia Levinson, the Springer Motors book club, and many more.

And family. To Alison and Joel, I simply want to say that I am in awe -- in utter awe -- of your strength and love and so deeply grateful for what you have done and who you are. To Carlota's cousin, Harry Phillips, who has known Carlota the longest, and came here under very difficult circumstances of Marge's illness, but as always, is there. To my brother Martin, from Honolulu and my sister Carolyn, who also came here under great travel burdens and care-giving responsibilities. I am deeply grateful for your love and support.

And gratitude to Carlota, my lovely creature, who made me a lucky man by making a life with me. She taught me generosity ... and connectedness ... and wretched excess ... and humility. I first met her in 1982 at Isabel Marcus's hot tub down the street on Bridle Path from where we now live -- modestly clad, of course -- and fully radiant. Pat Cain, Jan Summer, Bea Ann Smith and others knew that place so well. Then we slowly became friends in the mid-1980s, and then better friends. Then our romance blossomed forth in May, 1990 in Jerusalem, and we were married in 1996 in Carlota's house on Waterston Street (which also had a hot tub, but this one with a painted cover by Malou Flatou, commissioned of course, by Carlota) on a warm and sunny day in June and then all the years since.

Let me give you three or four vignettes of Carlota. The first is a tooled leather album that Carlota created at age 14 after a trip to Mexico. She took the photos and strung captions between them. Remarkable both in the clarity of the shots and the writing, I am especially taken by the scenes at Xachimilco, before commercialized tourism had set in. There are photos of the boats poling them along and one of a pig by the muddy side of the water. Here is what Carlota said in her captions -- one of the pictures is of the pig.

"One of our 'side-trips' was to Xachimilco, the famous floating gardens. We went on a week-day, so all was quiet and serene, and we were poled along in our little boat, stopping to eat some delicious tacos, bought from a woman in another boat, and to admire the scenery. It was hot and we thought the pig very sensible to be rooting in the mud."

"The pig ... very sensibly rooting in the mud" is pure Carlota, and already so at 14.

Carlota was an only child and not happy as one. When she met Jane Stern, another only child, they became inseparable sisters. Jane has been part of Carlota's life since 1951, and I now treasure Jane as a close friend. They had a third close friend at Radcliffe, Jane Cohen, who also married a Robertson. She visited in March, but sent this email for today:

"As you may know, Carlota really changed my life. It was of course not only that she punctured Ayn Rand forever for me when we were freshmen at Radcliffe. Or that Jim and I spent our first whole night together under her auspices. Or that she couldn't drive for weeping after she, Jane, and I saw Wuthering Heights together. Or that she put me on the path to Linguistics. It was all those things and her endless kindness over the many years of Jim's decline and death. She put up with my inability to get a plan right and follow through on it for all that time when I could only concentrate on my own narrow concerns, just with her endless friendship, understanding, and support."

I am struck by the thought of the brightest young women of that generation discussing ideas and Carlota already "puncturing" the too easy thought of Ayn Rand (of whom I and countless others were enamoured) and then sobbing over Olivier's performance in Wuthering Heights.

Another email is  from Tony Woodbury, who was in Latin America and not able to return, but who responded almost instantaneously with a warm message that captures so much of Carlota and touched me to the quick:

"I have known Carlota since I came here in 1980; and I met her briefly before that, in 1974, when I was an undergraduate. She has been such a dazzling presence; and I felt that as I knew her in different ways -- as new faculty member, as colleague, as reader of her work, as chair, and as fellow teacher -- there was always more to her, always something different, something new, and something exciting. And in this last year, and this last semester, I really saw something so special -- such warmth, such a spirit of giving, and such a commitment to life."

Carlota struck all of us with her range. She was comfortable with artists and poets, and physicists, and of course psychologists and law professors, and brought some of each world in contact with the other. She also had cultural range. Sometimes I think she had a special affinity for women from Arkansas: Judy Langlois is from Arkansas, as is Mary Ross Taylor, and Dee Buffington, and also Gloria Weisenberger, from the book group. You would think that Carlota would have very little to say to Gloria, from a Southern church-going milieu and Carlota from Greenwich Village and the Linguistics Department at U.T. Yet here is Gloria's email to me:

"It was entirely due to Carlota's gentle prodding that the book group agreed to reexamine the classics of world literature -- 30-40 years away from college. She knew well that the breadth and depth of life experiences would enhance our appreciation. Indeed, we became her debtors. In spite of her prodigious intellect and scholarly achievements, Carlota was generous with her praise -- she had a sympathetic heart and was a patient listener to mistaken opinions (and non sequiturs). ... She won my heart with her broad and deep capacity for merriment. In spite of our diverse cultural backgrounds -- NYC vs. Arkansas -- Carlota and I shared not a few fits of giggling."

Finally, I want to talk about poetry. Poetry was one of our bonds and one of Carlota's beauties. We have been members of a poetry group for years. When Carlota became ill, she fell away from poetry. Despite her illness and the treatment she continued to do linguistics all out for 2 full years. Yet she lost the ability -- or interest -- to connect with the subtlety of poetry. But slowly she came back to it, and started attending sessions again. We had not hosted a meeting for nearly two years, and Carlota insisted that we do our turn. Eight days before she died we had a session of the poetry group at our house. Here is one of the poems that Carlota read that night:

                         Dirge in Woods      by George Meredith (1829-1909)

                         A wind sways the pines,
                             And below
                         Not a breath of wild air;
                         Still as the mosses that glow
                         On the flooring and over the lines
                         Of the roots here and there.
                         The pine-tree drops its dead;
                         They are quiet, as under the sea.
                         Overhead, overhead
                         Rushes life in a race,
                         As the clouds the clouds chase;
                             And we go,
                         And we drop like the fruits of the tree,
                             Even we,
                             Even so.

Eight days before she too would go, she left us this gem to help us mourn and then heal her loss.

I look at the pictures of Carlota and family now arrayed in our kitchen from these last months. With Alison and Joel, Rosemary and Ari, and Sylvia and Alan. She is smiling and her warmth suffuses the room.   ....  My heart is broken...  but I am warmed by Carlota's presence and I am smiling with her.

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Reception and Remembrances


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Memories

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Carlota was a great friend and colleague. She was like the really good kind of relative who took an interest in what you were dreaming about and always believed you could pull it off.  We won't be the same without her.
~~~ Ted Fernald, Department of Linguistics, Swarthmore College


I send my condolences regarding the passing away of Carlota Smith, and my regrets on not being able to join you at her memorial service. I know this must be a difficult time for the linguistics faculty at UT. However, a rich personal and professional life as hers must be joyfully celebrated.  In addition to all her qualities and achievements, Carlota was a polite person. This is the quality not searched for, which according to Borges, is  the initial form of goodness, the true cipher of a soul that is like a clear day:

Nadie podrá olvidar su cortesía:
era la no buscada, la primera
forma de su bondad, la verdadera
cifra de un alma clara como el día

"Nobody could forget her courtesy:
 Though not searched for, it was the first
 form of her goodness, the true
 cipher of a soul that is like a clear day."  
              (translation of Borges's lines provided by Prof. Lujan)

~~~Marta Lujan, Department of Spanish & Portuguese, UT Austin


I still can't quite grasp the reality that Carlota is gone. I don't think it'll properly hit me until I am in Austin again. It all seems so sudden. This semester I had been in touch with Carlota a number of times. We talked on the phone when I was in India and then later she was determined and persistent enough to make me write down and give her my paper for her workshop last March. After that we had made a plan to talk on the phone but now that will not happen. This is a regret that will stay with me for a long time.

Our recent conversations were - as will not surprise anyone who knows Carlota - about the perfect in Indo-Aryan languages, crosslinguistic variation in aspect, and our respective job searches. I would ask her about her health and she would say fine and that was it.

In my mind's eye, I can still see her smiling in my mind, maybe sipping wine at Zoot. When I was with her I always felt sophisticated - I thought of summers in France and theater in New York. Everything felt more exciting with her. I don't know if this was actually the case but whenever we went out to eat, I felt that we got a better table than when I went by myself. She claimed that this was not actually the case and that the person with real connections was Nick Asher but I think she was just being modest.
~~~Rajesh Bhatt, Department of Linguistics, UMass Amherst


In 2005 when I was taking Tense and Aspect with Carlota, someone told me that she had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatments.  I thought she might quit teaching after that semester.  It turned out that I was wrong. She not only didn’t quit teaching, but she also didn’t show signs of slowing down.  Amazingly she continued to teach and was academically active. She never hesitated to provide me with the most thoughtful suggestions and comments. Anyone who had a chance to work with her would agree with me that she exemplified professionalism and perfection. 
      
There is a story I'd like to tell.  I can still recall one time I asked Carlota how she could have children and still achieved so much professionally.  Her secret turned out to be simply that “you just need to do what you need to do.”  Her advice turned out to be just as significant to me as was her theory of tense and aspect in terms of the impact they both have had on my academic career.
      
I have only positive things to say about Carlota.  This is not just because I’m Chinese and Chinese generally don’t criticize their elders.  To me, she was flawless as a respected teacher and an elegant lady whose manner, words, and deeds were always appropriate.  Unfortunately I am unable to attend her service, but I want to celebrate her life, a life so well-lived and so full of achievement.  Carlota continues to live in my memory.
~~~Yahui Anita Huang, Department of Linguistics, UT Austin


I just read the news about Carlota on the Language Log...a shocking and sad discovery.  Carlota was a friend since we were undergraduates at Radcliffe... I last saw her  when she was at the Boston University Conference on Language Development several years ago... we took some time out to sit on a bench in front of the George Sherman Union and catch up on our lives. She loved linguistics and she loved her family. Carlota had an elegance of thought, bearing, and style that one could only admire.  I'm so sorry that she is gone.
~~~Jean Berko Gleason, Professor Emerita, Department of Psychology, Boston University


Carlota (as one of my two chairs previously) has been and will always be my big model for me to follow...Even when she was already fairly ill, she still worked so hard and fast...Once, I had a short paper due in two weeks. She read it within two days and put it in my box in an envelope. She
was just as sweet and considerate as she was efficient. During the Spring break (during which most of us didn't do much email), she was thinking
about a term for one of the tenses of the language that I am working on. And she emailed me, "....I suggest this term....but I am not too happy
about it, perhaps you can think of a better one". Then she emailed back and forth with me several times that day...I was just so touched by those
easy-to-approach words...In the same email, she also included her home phone(which, of course, I never called). She made as attentive, available
and approachable as she could for me..I still cannot get over to the fact that she is gone now...
~~~I-wen Lai, Department of Linguistics, UT Austin


I still can't believe we lost Carlota. I met with her the week before she passed away and we planned to meet again this week...

Carlota was such a great adviser. She was very responsible, patient, responsive and so ready to help. Her comments and suggestions were always inspiring, effective and to the point. She was more than just an academic advisory. She was very considerate and caring, willing to accommodate to my personal needs. I felt very lucky to have been her research assistant and supervisee and wish she were still here... Her contributions and impact on me are beyond anything my non-native English could possibly describe...
~~~Fei Ren, Department of Linguistics, UT Austin


Carlota was my first 'office-mate' when I first came to UT in the summer of 1970. Though she would have preferred someone a bit closer to Noam, she was stuck with me. I most recall her quiet gentleness, her always present grace, and her dignity. We were the odd couple, but we made the best of my linguistic ignorance. She transformed me into her personal informant, always asking me to judge grammaticality of sentences.
~~~Harvey Sussman, Department of Linguistics, UT Austin


I doubt Carlota would have liked these postings to be only of the heavy, what-she-meant-to-me genre. That she was seriously committed to the linguistics endeavor and intellectual pursuits is well understood. Three weeks before she died she sent me an E-query about negation in the Germanic languages. I cobbled together something that passed for an answer, but what I really wanted to write back to my brave comrade in arms for almost forty years at UT was "Attagirl!" for having the courage to carry on knowing that any day could be her last. Our friendship even survived the inevitable dean-chair frictions during her term as head of the department in the 1980s. Her life in the profession, as scholar, teacher, and mentor, was exemplary.

My most endearing memory of Carlota is something altogether different. It has to do with food and drink, specifically with paella and vodka martinis. I came to UT in the mid 1960s and Carlota a few years later. In those days people, even young assistant professors, still gave dinner parties if they liked to cook, cooked well, and liked to eat well. Carlota did all three, and the meal I remember best is the paella she made at her house on the lake circa 1971 when a French linguist was visiting. The ingredients for paella were not that easy to assemble in pre-modern Austin, but assemble them she did, and I would have to wait almost thirty years to have paella again that good--"une grande portion" bought at a Saturday open-air
market in the southwestern town of Sarlat and eaten  out of its paper container in a nearby park.

In Austin of those years wine and designer beer had not yet displaced that high-point of American civilization, the martini, as the drink of choice before dinner. People vied for best martini: Tanqueray or Beefeater, vodka or gin, a dash of vermouth (white, of course) or only a whiff, an olive, a twist, both? Carlota always won with her vodka martinis. The secret was none of that "shaken not stirred" nonsense but the merest whiff of vermouth, an optional olive, and--the secret!--vodka kept in the freezer so that when poured it sort of rolled thickly out of the bottle. Since then I will have vodka no other way for my martinis and those I make for that occasional time traveler from the past who knows what martinis are. (I also recommend the freezer for tequila and pisco.)

But the paella was only one of many outstanding dinners. There was that boeuf bourguignon Carlota cooked when her father came on his last visit. I had been wanting to meet him a long time--he had known John Reed and Louise Bryant personally!--and the meal as usual when Carlota cooked matched the company. And, maybe by then only for old times' sake, she took the vodka bottle out of the freezer and made the two of us one of her perfect martinis.
~~~Bob King, Department of Linguistics, UT Austin


Carlota in the Suzhou Scholar's Study, July 2002

Seated on the new fast train between Shanghai and Suzhou in July 2002, Carlota and I pick through a red army memoir, clause by explosive clause. A battle scene makes a good source of Chinese examples of actions with dramatic results.

A seatmate comments that what we are discussing sounds remarkably like Chinese.

Suddenly, the train arrives in Suzhou, where the garden villas of the old scholar officials are now public parks.

Carlota tramps along the inlaid gravel paths, through the stone mazes, over the arched bridges across the lotus ponds and beside the gingko and loquat trees which I so want to see. "John appreciates plants more than I do," her honest voice murmurs. "How many servants did it take to keep up a garden of this size?"

Entering a scholar's study, Carlota is revived. Her love of architecture fills the spare, high-beamed chamber, its window frames carved into lattice puzzles of bamboo and lucky bats. Couplets inscribed on hardwood panels hang above the desks. She wants to know what each one says. She wishes she could find a pair for her own study.

A couplet in the Small Hill and Osmanthus Fragrance Pavilion at the Master of Nets Garden seems especially right:

"By the power of twisting mountain crags, reality is like a painting,
 By the flowing spring in hidden retreat, there books are born."

(山勢盤陀真 是畫

Shān  shì  pán  túo  zhēn  shì  hùa, 

流它姿逡成書

Quán  líu  tā   zī  qūn  chéng  shū.) 

Walking through the garden studios, all of Carlota's modes of discourse spring forth. Narrative and description, report, information and argument float across the sultry breeze.

Who can value such a scholar? Who can cherish such a friend?
~~~Mary Erbaugh, University of Oregon


Carlota very kindly allowed me to audit her course on tense and aspect and was very open and welcoming to me even though she knew I was not in a related field.  I just wanted to know what  tense and aspect were about and she gave me a glimpse.  I have always envied those who worked with her and got to appreciate the full force of her delightfully agile and expansive intellect.
~~~Ben Hansen, Department of Linguistics, UT Austin


In addition to being a world-renowned scholar, Carlota was at the vanguard of women in academia who also chose to be mothers, paving the way for all the women in our department who have had, or will have, babies while pursuing MAs and PhDs. Consider the rigors of being in grad school, a single mother of two, and the fact that this was over 40 years ago--the early 1960s (!!!)--  before the second wave women's movement had achieved so much that we take for granted. I know that I am one of several women in the department who became pregnant that  she encouraged through sharing her own experiences.

I have been lucky in that my dissertation committee and the chair of the department have been nothing but supportive of my being pregnant. And I  believe it's because of Carlota and women like her that it's even a possibility for women of our generation to choose to pursue a career in academia while being  mothers.

So, in addition to causing me to worry over peculiarities of the English Perfect, and distinctions in telicity and boundedness, she's been a source of
inspiration for my life choices. Not to mention that she made me feel better about getting fat :) She said to me in a matter-of-fact and reassuringly dismissive way "Higher weight gain means a bigger baby. And a bigger baby  is a healthy baby."

That's all.
~~~Jessica White, Department of Linguistics, UT Austin


I won't be able to attend [the memorial], I'll be out of town. But I would like to say that Carlota was always smiling, always happy, and seemed to have an infectious nature. I was always happy to see her. I will miss her.
~~~Willis Warren, Department of Linguistics, UT Austin


When I think of Carlota, I am reminded of what Gérard Depardieu said about Catherine Deneuve after they finished filming The Last Metro,
"She is the man I'd like to be."
~~~Andy Rogers, Austin, Texas


I am very sorry that I lost my teacher, Professor Carlota Smith. I learned a lot through her works, her classes, and my personal communication
with her.

When I was writing my MA thesis in Japan, her book and articles gave me a lot of clues for my research on aspect in Japanese. I could understand basics of lexical and grammatical aspect in natural languages through her careful description and analysis. I felt something in common between her two-component theory of aspect and my approach to aspect in Japanese based on Jackendoffian Conceptual Semantics.

I remember her wonderful seminar courses including Aspect, Discourse, and Lexical Semantics and the last class meeting at her house for each seminar course where students and faculty exchanged opinions about students' presentations in a cozy and comfortable atmosphere.

I cannot forget my e-mail communication with her concerning my first qualifying paper. To develop the paper, we exchanged e-mail messages a number of times during the Summer Break and the Fall in 2002 until the paper was accepted. Compared with oral communication, I know that e-mail communication is more laborious and burdensome when we discuss technical or philosophical issues on research topics. Nevertheless, she always provided detailed comments and questions, illustrating the points comprehensively. I learned a lot through this series of  discussions. Without them, I could not have finished the paper so early or presented relevant papers based on it at linguistic conferences.

Her generosity never changed even after the paper was finished. Her questions and comments on my dissertation were very significant in the defense. Her detailed corrections and feedback on the dissertation draft are really helpful to finish my dissertation.

I will never forget her scientific spirit and her goodwill. I believe that they are inherited by her students.
~~~Hitoshi Horiuchi, Department of East Asian Studies, Brown University


When I think of Carlota, the first word that comes to my mind is "time".
 
Carlota, of course, knew a lot about the subject. She'd written articles and books on it. She changed the way we looked at it. She spent years thinking about the workings of Time, and the way we perceive it, and the way we try to express it. Time--one of the most fundamental concepts there is. One she helped us to understand better, and one that the world knows much less about with her gone.
 
I wish I could have had more time to know Carlota. This is surpassed only by my gratefulness for the time that I did have.
 
Carlota was very much a woman of her time. She exuded a degree of class and refinement that is all but lost from modern-day men and women of letters. She collected art. She delighted in fine refreshments and hors d'oeuvers. She wore her jackets draped over her shoulders. She spoke French.
 
She was very much ahead of her time as well. She was a pioneer in at least three important areas of linguistics. She was one of the first acclaimed women of the modern field. She continued to pursue new methods, new ideas, and new discoveries.
 
Carlota spent a long time as a linguist. She had a very keen sense for how long-standing many of the "current" problems in linguistic theory really were. I remember more than one of our discussions that ended with her pursing her lips and saying "well, I just don't really see what the big deal is. Isn't this just the same thing that so-and-so said 40 years ago?" And she'd proceed to hand me some old article I'd never even heard of, and sure enough, she was usually quite right. When you spoke to Carlota you could not help but feel the time. 
 
For Carlota, time wasn't just an academic passion. Time was all too real. Carlota was very aware of the time she had spent and she knew that she had little time left. She did not waste that time. She strove until it ran out completely. Carlota's sense of time was impressive; her use of time was staggering.
 
A poignant lesson in time, in tense and aspect, is contained in every utterance of "Carlota was".
~~~Nick Gaylord, Department of Linguistics, UT Austin


Carlota always had a beautiful smile on her face, every time I saw her...whether she was in the hallway, or at some departmental social event.  I only had a few conversations with her, but her openness to all students in the department was really remarkable.  She was always willing to give me her opinion and guidance, even though my research project was a little afield from her specialty.
~~~Kate Shaw, Department of Linguistics, UT Austin


I've known Carlota since I arrived at UT in 1991.  To me she was the consummate intellectual, highly intelligent and productive without being pedantic or a show-off.  My sense was that she was just very curious about the world and the humans that populate it, and worked passionately to understand them.  She also appreciated the artistic side of scholarship, nice turns of phrase and so on. 

She was a wonderful colleague whose sage advice I sought on many occasions.  She had a way of making you feel that your concerns were interesting and important.  I remember one conversation that started with me promising to 'make a long story short'.  Carlota said, 'I'd rather have the long version.'

But she was also just a fun person to be with.  I have nice memories of exploring together in Jerusalem, following a workshop in Israel that we both attended. 

We shared an interest in poetry, and she invited me to the poetry reading group consisting of John and Carlota and various interesting friends of theirs.  I felt flattered to be included, and I really enjoyed it. 

Carlota was a warm presence on the fourth floor of Calhoun Hall.  Over the years, as I have passed by her door on the way to mine, I would notice whether her door was open.  When it was closed I would often look for the light shining under her door, which meant that she was in.  Somehow that made a difference to me.
~~~Steve Wechsler, Department of Linguistics, UT Austin


We send our deepest condolences to Carlota’s family, friends, colleagues and the Department of Linguistics at UT Austin, where I received my BA in the 1980s when Carlota was Department Chair.  Carlota’s outstanding achievements as a scholar of tense and aspect, and as a leading woman academic have always been inspiring. Her work in the theory of aspect has been most influential, and has become a classic. Especially meaningful to me was the way she illuminated Chinese aspect.  Carlota was one of the most admirable linguists that I have looked up to in my own career.

In Hong Kong, my husband and I had the pleasure and privilege of taking her to a dim-sum lunch in 2004, when she contacted us through her friend and co-author Mary Erbaugh. At an earlier visit in the summer of 1998,  we invited her to talk to our  linguistics graduate students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I still vividly recall her infectious smiles, avid interest in what people were working on, and the intensity of her expression when listening to others.  It was such fun to be in the company of such an intelligent, witty and kind scholar. The last time we saw her was at the Linguistic Society of America’s Annual Meeting in January 2006. Not only did she give a keynote speech on her recent work, but she was also constantly consulting with colleagues and students, talking animatedly on things of interest.  Carlota was so full of energy and inspiration; she always had something to share. We took some pictures of her giving the speech which we sent to her afterwards and she was most appreciative.

We take the opportunity to celebrate an extraordinary life lived with passion and kindness. As a tribute to Carlota, we reflect with her once more on the subject of time:

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
 a time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted…
 a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

Carlota, Stephen and Virginia

Carlota, Stephen and Virginia in Hong Kong, 2004

 ~~~Virginia Yip, Department of Linguistics and Modern Languages, Chinese University of Hong Kong


This tribute is difficult to write because I loved Carlota and her death leaves a very large hole in my life.  But it would be difficult to write about Carlota in any case because she was such a many-faceted person: she loved linguistics and dedicated a great deal of her time to it, but she also loved literature, art galleries, good restaurants, good company, and nice clothes (in which she showed exquisite taste).  I was fortunate to know her for almost 40 years, first as her student then as her friend.  And I have as many memories of dining, shopping, and going to galleries with her as I do of working with her on linguistic papers (mostly mine, sometimes hers) and reading her manuscripts.  She was an excellent scholar and a caring mentor; but what I will remember most is how much fun she was to be with.  As someone has said on this page, you always felt that in a restaurant she commanded the best table!  She was elegant and sophisticated, as well as warm-hearted; and she taught me as much about art and food as she did about linguistics.

Carlota simply had a talent for living to the fullest, for staying intellectually alive, engaged with people, and appreciative of art and beauty to the very last.  I saw her a month before she died; and she was exactly the same as she’d always been.  It is almost impossible for me to believe that I’ll never see her again--she was far too alive ever to die.
~~~Helen Aristar-Dry, Department of Linguistics, ILIT, Eastern Michigan University


Remembering Carlota Smith
to appear in the UT Center for Women's and Gender Studies Spring 2007 newsletter

Carlota S. Smith, the Dallas TACA Professor in the Humanities, and Professor of Linguistics, passed away on May 24, 2007 after a long struggle with cancer. Carlota first joined the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin in 1969, when she came as an NSF funded faculty associate. Her areas of specialization were syntax and semantics. She published two books, dozens of articles and book chapters, and was the recipient of numerous grants and awards. She had a special interest in the syntactic and semantic structures of Navajo and Mandarin Chinese, as well as a passion for poetry, literature, and theatre.

Carlota was a faculty affiliate of women’s and gender studies from its founding in the early 1980s.  She was also part of the “Ad Hoc Committee for a Women’s Studies Program” (led by Betty Sue Flowers and BJ Fernea) that first proposed the creation of a women’s studies program to Dean Robert King in 1979.  In an oral history interview that Carlota gave in 2005, she recalled that when women’s studies was first being discussed, “I very deliberately said to myself, ‘I am going to do whatever I can to promote this.’” According to Flowers, Carlota was “the ranking member” of the Ad Hoc Committee “since the rest of us were assistant professors or lecturers. It was very encouraging to have her backing.” For most of the 1980s, Carlota served on the Women’s Studies Steering Committee.  She was also chair of the Faculty Women’s Organization (which was founded in 1982) from 1994-1995.

Carlota cared deeply about the advancement of women faculty.  According to King, “she was zealous in trying to get women faculty promoted.”  She served as chair of the Department of Linguistics from 1981-1985, making her the first woman chairperson in the College of Liberal Arts.  She was also the second woman in the college to receive an endowed professorship (Elspeth Rostow was the first).  In the mid-1980s, Terry Sullivan, (now provost at the University of Michigan), served as director of women’s studies and then as chair of sociology. Sullivan recalls about Carlota’s assistance in the 1980s, “She was wise, calm and patient . . . She was always generous with her time and made the extra effort to help out colleagues, especially the younger ones.”

Many of her colleagues in CWGS and in the FWO remember Carlota for her kindness and support.  She had a talent for making younger faculty feel competent and empowered. Carlota was generous with her praise and forthright with her advice. She served as a role model – as an incredibly accomplished academic who enjoyed life and encouraged others. As Professor Judy Coffin recalls, “She was brilliant, intrepid, warm and in the last year or so incredibly brave. I admired everything about her. We've lost a very dear colleague.”
~~~Gretchen Ritter, Center for Women's and Gender Studies, UT Austin


One of the advantages of academic life is that you get to meet people from all over the world. You don't necessarily get to know them very well, but sometimes, despite this, you meet someone whose is so special that the meeting illuminates your life in someway. Carlota was one of these people.  I met her in Jerusalem in 1994. Edit Doron and Tanya Reinhart invited us (separately) to meet them for dinner after a dance perfomance that they were going to and that was already sold out. I was deputed to wait in the foyer of the theatre and collect Carlota, despite the fact that I had never met her. It was in the middle of a festival and there were literally hundreds of people crossing the foyer, and I was very hesitant about finding the right person, Nonetheless, when Carlota entered I was immediately and correctly persuaded by the sheer intelligent curiosity of her expression that she was the "right one".  We met a couple more times on that trip, and then again when I was invited to the Texas Linguistics Forum in 1997, on which occasion she hosted a party at her house, and then when she was back in Israel again.  Always, I was drawn by her warmth, her aliveness, her intelligent involvement in everything going on around.  As I got more and more involved in the semantics of aspect and expressions of aspect crosslinguistically, I returned more and more to her work: her book and her many papers, which are always fascinating and helpful, and which I always recommend to my students.  She was to have been a guest at a workshop that I organised at Bar-Ilan June 2005, but sadly she was diagnosed with cancer a week before the workshop started, and she had to cancel so as to begin treatment immediately.  The workshop was poorer without her, and I regret that we never got to have the talks that we planned for that trip.
~~~Susan Rothstein, Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center, Bar-Ilan University, Israel


One of the most endearing aspects of Carlota was her robust optimism, which saw her through many difficult times. There was a sign in the kitchen in her house on Patterson which said (though I don't remember the exact words) that life is basically beautiful and if there are problems you just deal with them. Many people have already said that Carlota was able to share with them the various diffculties in their lives, and that they were able to get through these times helped by her kind and insightful attention. I certainly felt this, whether because of job problems, or in wrestling with drafts of papers. She read these papers, even if the topic or the theory weren't exactly her cup of tea, and she always had eminently reasonable suggestions. I am glad that her written work  is available for continuing the discussion of her ideas.

Most recently, we shared the experience of living with cancer, which we agreed was highly inconvenient and not at all what we had planned in our busy schedules. One of our last conversations, over an icecream cone, was on this topic. It's characteristic of Carlota that this conversation was the greatest fun, and I will treasure the memory of that afternoon. Carlota took her illness as an opportunity to live her life as her best self, and she did.
~~~ Alice Davison, U. of Iowa


For Carlota's pals, a tribute, as we remember our friend. The poem is called 'Quiet Eyes.'

 Quiet Eyes

~~~ Haj Ross, University of North Texas

La disparition de Carlota nous affecte profondément, c'était une amie de très longue date avec laquelle nous avions noué des relations plus qu'amicales, fraternelles. Notre première rencontre avec elle date de l'hiver 1967, à Philadelphie chez le Pr. Zellig Harris auprès duquel Carlota terminait sa thèse et où l'un de nous (Andrée) suivait des cours pour quelques mois, sur la recommandation du Pr. Marco Schützenberger.

A partir de cette première rencontre et tout au long de ces années, nous n'avons jamais cessé de nous voir, soit à l'occasion d'un séjour aux USA, soit plus fréquemment en France, parce que Carlota venait passer des vacances avec nous, à Marseille, à Toulouse, en Normandie... Sa générosité, sa profonde humanité, la chaleur de son attention  et de son amitié nous manqueront cruellement. Nous voudrions dire à John, son compagnon, à Allison  et Joel, ses enfants, que nous partageons leur chagrin. Qu'ils sachent que Carlota nous était précieuse et que nous garderons vivace son émouvant souvenir.

~~~ Andreé et Mario Borillo; Pr. Emérite à l'Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail, Directeur de Recherche Emérite au CNRS (respectively)


I was teaching French at Swarthmore when Carlota arrived, as a young faculty wife, with a baby the same age as mine. Over the years we talked while our children played together. We both lived through some difficult times; she was incredibly generous with her help when I needed it.

All the while, as Carlota turned to linguistics, our conversations gave me new, and very exciting insights into the study of literature. Eventually we decided to work together in a study of Flaubert's wonderful “conte”, Un Coeur Simple. We had great fun analyzing the subtle effects of the gender of nouns and pronouns. We produced two versions of the paper. One, “Interpreting ellipses in a text”, written by Carlota, was sent to a linguistics journal. “Paper II”, as Carlota called it, I wrote for a literary audience, with Carlota's input on the specifically linguistics portions. It was published in Language and Style in 1984, as “Some Significant Omissions: Ellipses in Flaubert's ‘Un Coeur Simple’.” In one of the last e-mails I received from her, Carlota wrote: “A couple of us put on a very nice little workshop, Literature and Linguistics, just last week.” We will all miss Carlota's sensitive insights in this field. My best wishes to her colleagues who are carrying on.

Carlota lived with me in Norton, MA, the year she taught at Brown. I am so grateful for those months, and for many others through the years, of great companionship, and great cooking. I deeply miss my most gracious friend, Carlota.


~~~ Jeanne Whitaker, Emerita Professor of French, Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts


I took syntax from Carlota in the Spring of 1998. I was a linguistic anthropologist with interests in Southern Athabaskan languages. My advisor, Joel Sherzer, had encouraged me to take the class. Here is something I remember from that class. Towards the end of the semester a number of students decided to throw Carlota an end of semester surprise party. The class had been difficult, but Carlota's basic goodness, humanity, and good humor had always been present. When she came into class that day, she appeared very surprised, and I think, quite touched (my memory now is of tears in her eyes). She invited the class to her house after the final for another party. Since then, as my research changed from Apache to Navajo, she was there to support and always show an interest in what I was doing. I remember fondly visiting with her while I was doing fieldwork in 2001 on The Navajo Nation and she was at the Navajo Language Academy outside Gallup, NM. In early spring of 2007 she wrote a letter of reference for me to the American Philosophical Society for a grant, and we corresponded briefly in May after I had gotten the grant. Then she was gone. For me, though, the memory of Carlota that I enjoy the most, is the look on her face that day we threw a surprise party for her in our syntax class.


~~~ Anthony K. Webster, Dept. of Anthropology and Native American Studies Minor, Southern Illinois University


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Contributions to this page are very welcome – please send to Alexis Palmer (alexispalmer@mail.utexas.edu).

The Department of Linguistics also welcomes contributions to an endowed graduate fellowship created in Carlota's honor by her family, friends, and colleagues. If you would like to donate, follow this link: Carlota Smith endowed graduate fellowship in Linguistics.

Questions about the endowment may be directed to Assistant Dean Kathleen Aronson, mcaronson@mail.utexas.edu.