2019 Farkas Retirement Celebration

Donka Farkas
Donka Farkas

The celebration honoring the retirement of Donka Farkas was held on Saturday, June 8, 2019 at the University Center Rotunda Room with many department's faculty, staff, family, and friends in attendance. Professor Emerita Judith Aissen emceed the event.

Judith Aissen:

Good afternoon, colleagues, friends, and family of Donka. And welcome to this event which both celebrates Donka's time at UCSC and wishes her well going forward. I feel a bit like Charon, called on to ferry my retiring colleagues to the land of shades, but in fact I regard retirement as quite the opposite and suspect that for Donka, her post-retirement life will be even more intellectually lively than her pre-retirement life has been.

Junko asked me to say a few words about Donka's career at UCSC, so I'll start with that. Donka joined the faculty in 1991. She was one of the final hires in the project of rebuilding the department that Jorge initiated in 1980. When Donka came, Tanya Honig was our department manager, Bill Shipley had, I believed, just retired, and it would be another year or so before Jaye Padgett arrived on campus. The faculty at that time consisted of five syntacticians (Jorge, Geoff Pullum, myself, Sandy, and Jim), two phonologists (Junko and Armin), and one semanticist (Bill Ladusaw). Our PhD program had been in place for 5 years and we clearly needed to augment the semantics side of the department.  Donka was an excellent fit for the department as she shared the commitment that many others on the faculty had to bringing deep and careful empirical work to bear on questions of theoretical importance. Donka also added significantly to the cosmopolitanism of the department: she was a native speaker of several European languages, languages that she drew on in both her research and her teaching, and she had strong connections to linguistics in Europe. Her contributions to semantics over four decades include work on mood and scope; on nominal semantics, specificity and incorporation; on control; and on the structure of the discourse. In all these areas, her work has had significant and continuing impact on the field.

I'd like to highlight three aspects of Donka's career which I think are distinctive and I'll start with a personal observation. Around 2009 or 2010, shortly before I retired, Donka and I co-taught a graduate seminar in micro- and macro- aspects of the speech context. So, during that quarter I had an extended opportunity to watch Donka teach. The aspect of her teaching that struck me most forcibly, that remains with me, was the way she responded to student comments. She had an unerring ability to turn almost every comment into a discussion of the larger issues at stake, and to a discussion of how the point raised by the student might be developed in order to bear on those issues. She spoke very directly, very clearly, and at length, so that there was no mistaking the point she was making. In short, she was a truly inspiring instructor.

It is little wonder then that she became the advisor to a significant number of outstanding dissertations, written by students who have gone on to make major contributions to semantics and pragmatics. Some of them have sent their eloquent expressions of thanks to Donka on this occasion:

Louise McNally (PhD, 1992):

Donka arrived at UCSC just in time to join my dissertation committee during my last year. At that time, not many linguistics departments had two formal semanticists (quite a few still had none), and I felt extremely fortunate when she arrived.

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Her discussion of "intensional descriptions" in Romanian existential sentences made a deep impression on me. In recent years, Donka has probably been best known for her research in Inquisitive Semantics, but I have most appreciated her work on nominal expressions. Some of my favorites: her 1997 paper showing that the scopal index at which a variable is valued could (and sometimes should) be teased apart from the index at which its descriptive content was valued; her 2003 book on incorporation with Henriette de Swart, which again helped me to think in new ways about the relation between descriptive contents and reference; and most recently (and also more indirectly), her discussions of Hungarian reduplicated indefinites, which proved crucial to the development of my student Kata Wohlmuth’s dissertation. It seems fitting — a kind of closing parenthesis — that Donka will be on her defense committee as well in just a few weeks.

Donka has always been a source of wise words. Perhaps those for which I am most grateful came early in my career, when it seemed like I would never get a job. Here I’ll mention just one observation, on the subject of what to aspire to in a linguistic analysis. She noted one day, in a class she was teaching on the subjunctive — perhaps as part of her campus interview? — that there will almost always be exceptions to any given analysis. We should aspire, she pointed out, to have a theory of the exceptions. Thank you, Donka, not just for your support and guidance, but also for many wonderful visits over the years, in Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Paris, and of course Barcelona and Santa Cruz!

Chris Kennedy (PhD, 1997):

One of the most difficult challenges of graduate school, in my opinion, is the challenge of figuring out how to move from the broad interests and big questions that pile up over the first three or so years of classes to a more focused set of questions, and a strategy for addressing them, that can be turned into a dissertation, and eventually provide the foundation for a research program that can make actual progress on the original questions and interests.

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A few students are able to resolve this challenge on their own, but most struggle with it, and I was no exception, spending most of my third year of graduate school trying and failing to figure out what kind of research I wanted to do, and how I would go about doing it. I remember talking about this to Donka under the redwoods in the Stevenson courtyard, and she told me to stop trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and start paying closer attention to what I was thinking about when I wasn't trying to solve this problem. This made me realize what kind of work I wanted to do — something that connected syntax, semantics and pragmatics — and when the topic of comparatives popped into my head a month or so later, driving on I-5 through the San Joaquin valley, I knew I finally had a dissertation. The rest is history, and now I tell my students the same thing Donka told me when they're faced with this challenge. Thank you, Donka! And I'll be looking forward to your advice on what to do next!

Christine Gunlogson (PhD, 2001):

Dear Donka, your kindness to me has been matched only by your rigor. I'm sure I speak for many of your students when I say, thank you for both.

Lyndsey Wolter (PhD, 2006):

Donka, what I remember most about working with you was the island of serenity that you created for your students. No matter what else might be going on in your life, somehow we always had time for a long, thoughtful conversation, and no matter how confused I might feel when I entered your office, I knew I would leave with a concrete plan to move my work forward. It's a model I think about a lot when I meet with my undergraduates. Now that your time is finally all your own, may it be full of joy.

Pete Alrenga (PhD, 2007):

Dear Donka— I can still remember so clearly the afternoon when I asked you to be my dissertation adviser. Since then, you've been many things to me: teacher, advisor, mentor, friend, host, and I've always admired the grace with which you've inhabited those roles. I wish you (and Peter!) nothing but the best, for everything that comes next. Congratulations!

Kyle Rawlins (PhD, 2008):

Dear Donka, congratulations on your retirement! You were an amazing advisor to me, kind and patient, and a model that I have tried to emulate in my own advising. I hope to see you around for many years more.

Scott AnderBois (PhD, 2011):

Many many thanks Donka for all that you have done! It feels like only yesterday that I was a first year grad student with absolutely no background in formal semantics. Your wise and generous teaching help me gain not just necessary technical skills but a way of approaching problems systematically and creatively, and perhaps most importantly the confidence to believe that with work I could cut it as a semanticist. Congratulations on your retirement, so glad that its first chapter will bring you to the East Coast!

Robert Henderson (PhD, 2012):

Donka had a profound influence on my thinking, both in graduate school and going forward into my early career. She was always adamant that a technical solution was not enough. What one needed was a story, not just for why the data are the way they are, but for why the analysis works and where it fits into the history of the field. This was how you did research with a lasting impact, and it's why her research will continue to have a profound effect on the field. We can say Donka in retiring, but her work most definitely is not. It will continue to shape linguistics and philosophy of language for many years to come.;

Oliver Northrup (PhD, 2014):

Thank you, Donka, for the attention and care you put into advising me during my time at Santa Cruz. I have many fond memories of sitting with you in your home, talking about commitment. Congratulations on your retirement!

Hitomi Hirayama (PhD, 2019):

Have a restful but fun and active retirement! Congratulations, Donka!

The other unmistakable characteristic of Donka's research is how much of it has been collaborative. She has had too many co-authors to mention all of them, but she has had particularly fruitful and on-going collaborations with Floris Roelofsen, Adrian Brasoveanu, and Henriette de Swart. When Donka turned 60, some of her friends organized a party for her, and at that time, I spoke about her warmth and her gift for friendship. What is striking is the way she combines intellectual work with friendship – my sense is that for Donka, collaboration is a dimension of friendship. While friendship may often be one consequence of collaboration, in Donka's case, it seems that the friendship often comes first, leading her to look for opportunities to deepen the friendship via joint intellectual work.

Donka has been a valued colleague at UCSC.  She has always been a serious and effective instructor both for graduate students and undergraduates, a fact which was recognized when she received the John Dizikes teaching award in 2013. She has taken on important service within the department and has served on administrative search committees as well as major Senate committees (including CAP, COR, Grad Council, and the Committee on Committees).  At the same time that she was juggling all these local responsibilities, she maintained an active research life and an international reputation in semantics. In the last five years alone, she has been an invited speaker in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Bucharest, Toronto, Tel Aviv and Paris.

Obviously, retirement can be a bit scary since it removes some of the structures that have given shape to our lives. Donka is in a particularly enviable position, though. As she retires from Santa Cruz, she moves to a year-long visiting position at Princeton -- both a soft landing and an honor.

So, let's raise a glass to Donka in recognition for so much that she has contributed to the department and with warmest wishes for a happy and healthy future.

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