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May 12, 2003

Linguistics professor elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences

By Scott Rappaport

UCSC linguistics professor Geoffrey K. Pullum has joined Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, journalist Walter Cronkite, philanthropist William Gates Sr., Nobel Prize-winning physicist Donald Glaser, recording industry pioneer Ray Dolby, and Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, as a newly elected member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Geoffrey K. Pullum is coauthor of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Photo: Barbara C. Scholz

The 2003 class of 187 Fellows and 29 Foreign Honorary Members includes four college presidents, three Nobel Prize recipients, and four Pulitzer Prize winners.

"It gives me great pleasure to welcome these outstanding and influential individuals to the nation’s oldest and most illustrious learned society," noted Academy President Patricia Meyer Spacks. "Newly elected Fellows are selected through a highly competitive process that recognizes those who have made preeminent contributions to their disciplines."

As in the MacArthur "Genius" awards, the honorees have no idea they are even being considered for the Academy.

"I was very surprised," said Pullum. "This comes out of the blue—you don’t apply. On Monday morning, a Federal Express envelope arrived from the Academy. It’s quite a remarkable thing."

Pullum is coauthor of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (2002), the first definitive grammar reference book of standard international English in more than 20 years. He has published a dozen books and nearly 200 articles on the scientific study of language.

Pullum received his Ph.D. in general linguistics from the University of London and has been a professor at UC Santa Cruz since 1981, additionally serving as the university’s dean of graduate studies and research from 1987 to 1993. One of his best-known books is The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, a highly entertaining collection of satirical essays about the field of linguistics.

The Academy of Arts & Sciences has elected the most influential leaders from each generation since its founding in 1780. The list includes George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th century, and Albert Einstein and Woodrow Wilson in the 20th century. Past elected Foreign Honorary Members have included Winston Churchill, Niels Bohr, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Albert Camus. The current membership includes more than 150 Nobel laureates and 50 Pulitzer Prize winners.

New Fellows and Foreign Honorary Members are nominated and elected by current members of the Academy in five different categories--mathematics and physics; biological sciences; social sciences; arts and humanities; and public affairs and business. The members conduct interdisciplinary studies that draw on a wide of range of academic and intellectual disciplines and participate in projects that focus on both advancing intellectual thought and constructive action.

Other newly elected 2003 Fellows include Catherine Bertini, Undersecretary General of the United Nations and chief executive of the World Food Program; novelists Richard Ford and Peter Carey; Jeri Laber, senior adviser to Human Rights Watch; Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich; William J. McDonough, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; and botanist Stephen P. Hubbell, founder and chairman of the National Council for Science and the Environment.

Pullum will travel to Cambridge, Mass., in October for the annual induction ceremony at the Academy’s headquarters.

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