Generative Linguistics pays its respects: Kazuko Inoue (1919 – 2017) by Prof. Naoki Fukui

Obituary: Kazuko Inoue (1919 – 2017)

Naoki Fukui

Sophia University, Tokyo

Kazuko Inoue, Professor Emerita and former President of Kanda University of International Studies, died in Tokyo, on May 3, 2017.  She was 98 years old.  Inoue-sensei, as all of us Japanese-speaking linguists call her (though absolutely without any authoritarian connotations that the expression sensei (lit. “teacher”) sometimes tends to carry) has been a great leader of generative linguistics in Japan, almost from the very beginning of its history in the early 1960s.  While certainly an influential and highly successful researcher, Inoue-sensei was also an ideal teacher and an effective and respectable administrator, who put to use in each of these domains her deep insight and tremendous talent for liberal, warm, and egalitarian human interaction that were her most notable characteristics.

Inoue’s academic career had begun rather late as compared with most others’ — she was already in her forties when she earned her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1964.  But it was a remarkably productive and successful one.  She has worked on a wide range of important topics of Japanese grammar, such as case-marking, topicalization, passives and causatives, relativization, reflexivization, quantifier float, the structure of noun phrases, “tough” construction, various functions of sentence-final particles as they pertain to discourse, and so on, and has published numerous books and articles both in English [E] and in Japanese [J].  I will focus on only the major books below.

She was trained within a structuralist tradition at Michigan, but she discovered generative grammar by herself.  Inoue-sensei once told me that because of the structuralist methodology that she had been immersed into by then, she was initially unable to understand and appreciate the importance of generative grammar when Noam Chomsky gave a talk at Michigan in 1958.  It was not until when she attended Robert Lees’ lectures on transformational grammar at the 1960 LSA Summer Institute that she convinced herself that generative grammar is the right scientific approach to exploring the nature of language.  Her Michigan dissertation (completed in 1964, later published as A Study of Japanese Syntax, The Hague: Mouton, 1969 [E]) was in fact the first book-length, comprehensive generative study of the Japanese language, to be followed by S.-Y. Kuroda’s influential 1965 MIT dissertation.

Inoue has since then worked on a wide range of phenomena in Japanese grammar within the generative framework, laying the foundation for generative studies of the language.  She published a two-volume book called Transformational Grammar and the Japanese Language (Tokyo: Taishukan, 1976 [J]), which presents a rather comprehensive and in-depth treatment of Japanese syntax from the generative viewpoint.  This book has remained, until now, as a source of empirical inspirations for anyone who is theoretically oriented and who wants to seriously work on Japanese.  In 1978, only two years after the publication of the two-volume set just mentioned, Inoue published another book Grammatical Rules in Japanese (Tokyo: Taishukan, 1978 [J]), which argues that grammatical transformations (as they were understood at that time) are not really necessary for the grammar of Japanese.  This controversial claim generated much debate among Japanese generative grammarians, invigorating the field that had been a bit stagnant during the 1970s.  Revitalized interest in formal syntax among Japanese grammarians naturally led to thriving research activities in the 1980s, particularly after the emergence of the principles-and-parameters approach around 1980, with the desirable result that in-depth studies of Japanese played a substantial role in developing the general theory of syntax.  Despite her extremely hectic schedule as a high-level administrator — among others, she was the President of Kanda University of International Studies from 1990 to 1997 —, Inoue continued to be productive during this period, publishing various articles and editing many books, including A Concise Encyclopedia of Japanese Grammar (Tokyo: Taishukan, 1989 [J]), which was, a small volume though it may be, a well-balanced theoretical encyclopedia on various facets of Japanese grammar.

In 2009, at the age of 90, Inoue published her last single-authored book Studies on Japanese Generative Syntax and the Development of the Generative Grammatical Theory: The Interface of Sentence-grammar and Discourse (Tokyo: Taishukan, 2009 [J]).  The book investigates the evolution of linguistic theory, from the earliest LSLT model to the most recent “minimalist” framework, going through the standard theory and the earlier phases of the principles-and-parameters model, with a close and careful attention to the history of Japanese generative grammar along the way.  It then discusses in detail how the study of Japanese has contributed, and should be able to contribute in the near future, to the development of general linguistic theory.  Until the last days of her life, I was amazed to learn, Inoue was holding handy by the bed a sixty-page manuscript that she had prepared for her “forthcoming book,” and was trying hard to complete the manuscript.  Her academic life — distinguished by any standards — indeed turned out to be longer than that of most others.

Inoue-sensei was also a perfect teacher.  She had all the best qualities that the best educator is supposed to have.  She was open-minded, generous, warm, compassionate, candid, and resourceful.  Inoue-sensei was always concerned about her students, keeping a very open and egalitarian atmosphere around her.  She was a very gifted and successful undergraduate teacher, and a superb supervisor for graduate students.  Inoue taught mainly at three different universities, International Christian University (ICU) for 22 years, Tsuda College for 4 years, and Kanda University of International Studies for 14 years.  At each of these institutions, she supervised and raised numerous graduate students, some of whom have gone on to become leading linguists in and outside of Japan.  Consequently, her success as an educator has been recognized worldwide.  It is also important to note that Inoue “supervised” many other young scholars/graduate students outside of her own institutions, giving them warm advice and encouragement, comments on their papers, and so on.  Her open-mindedness was truly remarkable.

Another indication of Inoue’s talents for quite liberal interaction with others was her extremely successful career as a high-level administrator.  The list of the prestigious administrative positions she held in her life is too long to enumerate here.  To mention just a couple of them, Inoue was elected to be the President of the Linguistic Society of Japan (1983-1985), and was appointed as the President of Kanda University of International Studies (1990-1997).  During her tenure as the President of the University, Inoue created the MA and Ph.D. programs in linguistics at Kanda, and then obtained as a PI a huge research and educational grant from the Japanese government (Center of Excellence, COE, 1997-2002).  As a result, this university, though relatively new and small in scale, attracted much attention from theoretical linguists worldwide, thanks mainly to Inoue’s presence as the leader of the research and educational project going on at the University.

In a little bit broader perspective (in terms of time and institutions), Inoue was one of the key persons who, under the leadership of Shiro Hattori, helped to create the Tokyo Institute for Advanced Studies of Language (a private research and educational institution for theoretical linguistics) in 1966, and to bring, in the same year, then young Noam Chomsky to Japan — his first visit to this country — to deliver a series of lectures and seminars in generative grammar.  For a linguist in her generation in Japan, Inoue had exceptionally strong ties with international communities of linguists.  Capitalizing on these strong ties, she continuously brought a number of internationally-renowned linguists to Japan — Barbara Partee, Emmon Bach, Haj Ross, Jacqueline Guéron, Joe Emonds, Henk van Riemsdijk, Tanya Reinhart, to name just a few among so many — so that linguists in Japan, particularly young linguists and graduate students could interact with those first-rate linguists in a very informal setting.  During her ICU years in the 1960s and 1970s, Inoue was a central figure organizing annual ICU Summer Institute in Linguistics, which was regarded by many as the Japanese counterpart of the Chicago Linguistic Society at that time.  Early in the 1980s, she played a pivotal role, as the Secretary-General of the Organizing Committee, in organizing the 13th International Congress of Linguists held in Tokyo in 1982.  In addition to these linguistics-internal activities, she was also on numerous national level, government-related committees — too numerous to mention here.  She was also a member of the Science Council of Japan.

There are many good and influential researchers in Japanese generative linguistics.  There also may be excellent educators and competent and effective administrators in the field.  If we combine all of these qualifications, however, there is simply no one else who stands even close to Kazuko Inoue.  Her constant contributions in toto to the development of Japanese generative linguistics, from its earliest days to the present, have been truly exceptional.  She has lived at an exciting time of linguistics, and has made it even more exciting for all of us.  I, for one, was very fortunate — fortunate enough to be able to interact with this great mentor as one of her students.  We must now move on without Inoue-sensei.

May 2017

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