Department of Modern Languages

The University of Mississippi

The Bill Question

by Donald L. Dyer

The Bill Question: Contributions to the Study of Linguistics and Languages in Honor of Bill J. Darden on the Occasion of his Sixty-Sixth Birthday


I remember the Bill Darden of a different era. Victor left the U of C campus in 1976 and went to North Carolina. I left North Carolina in 1980 and arrived in Hyde Park the same year. I met Bill that year, as he was Chair of the Linguistics Department, and I took my first class with him the next year when I entered the joint Ph.D. program in Slavic and
General Linguistics.

I remember Phonology I (non‑generative phonology) and I remember the Structure of Russian I: The Noun. I remember his teaching style … intense but calm at the same time. And I remember “the Bill Question,” too. The impression that it made on his students was just as strong as the impression it made on others, as described by Victor. Bill was a formidable presence in the classroom who commanded great respect. Students knew he expected a lot from them, they admired him and they gave him their all.

Bill Darden is just as fine a man as he is a professor. As I grew older, I felt more and more comfortable around Bill. He has a way of rearing his students, much as a father raises his children. With age, the relationship matures. As his student I appreciated growing older with him as my teacher and getting to know him better—intellectually and personally. It was wonderful for the first time to hear him call me by my first name, to see him at a conference and to chat as an old friend, to have him come to my own campus when I had my own job and to introduce him as a guest lecturer, to be able to call him Bill myself, for the first time, and not just Professor Darden.

Many students at the University of Chicago by now have had the wonderful opportunity of studying under the tutelage of Bill Darden. I feel lucky to have been just one. His time at the U of C has had a profound effect and influence on many, both in Slavic and Linguistics. The campus will be less when he is gone, and the Bill Question, well, I suspect someone else is going to have to start to ask it. I hope that in my life I have managed at least one!

Donald L. Dyer
University, Mississippi
May 1, 2006