Currently, professor of linguistics at the University of Montana and an unstoppable force in Salishan linguistics and the wider realm of Native American linguistics in general.
Tony began his life and career in Sicily where he was the bane of many a nun`s life and something of a juvenile delinquent. At 18, he emigrated to the USA and went to college to study literature. He went on to graduate school with its 1000 horrors and taught Italian and French to support himself. Gradually he became more interested in linguistics and realized that, when it comes to the English Department, there is no rigor there. So, he decided to transfer to the University of Washington where Lawrence C. Thompson was in charge of the linguistics department. When Larry transferred to the University of Hawaii, Tony followed him.
Thompson was, of course, a Salishanist, and, as Tony`s dissertation advisor, he 'encouraged' Tony to pursue Salishan linguistics as well. So, Tony obliged and wrote a thorough dissertation based on fieldwork he conducted in Washington and British Columbia on Okanagan Salish, or Colville-Okanagan. He graduated with his Ph.D. from Hawaii and eventually ended up in Montana.
Although Tony began as a syntactician, his interests shifted to oral literature and metaphor and the language and culture interface. In 1985, he published The Golden Woman, a book-length translation and morphological analysis of an Okanagan story, told to him by Peter J. Seymour.
Tony has now been working with the Okanagan tribe, primarily on their reservation in British Columbia for over 30 years, and he (though he will deny this) speaks the language quite fluently. He continues work on Salishan syntax along with his work on discourse, poetics, and ethnography.
That is a more or less objective history of the man`s career. But I think the anecdotes about Tony make him much more clear than the facts. There is no doubt that he is an important linguist. But, more than anything else, Tony is a great humanist and teacher. His work now is often coauthored because he views his informants, as they are called these days, as equal partners in his work.
In a seminar one day he told us C.J. Bailey, one of his former teachers, said '"s" cannot become "h", it simply boggles the mind'. Tony`s response was, 'First, C.J. should have said "the mind boggles at it" since "boggle" is not a transitive verb. Second, in some cases "s" does become "h". It`s as simple as that. That is why you can`t let your theory drive your analysis. The facts should determine your theory.'
Tony is also infamous for being unable to read a book once he has discovered what he considers unforgivable typos. Some textbook on language and culture that he was supposed to be reviewing had such a typo on page 27. Tony could read no further. Incidentally, he did not review the book.
In seminars, grad students are expected to have picked out the typos in the reading for the day; if a student didn`t notice then Tony assumes that student did not read carefully. Believe me, this leads to a lot of uncomfortable silence in Tony`s seminars. But also to a lot of careful reading.
He becomes noticeably riled when someone mentions the supposed 40 words for snow in Eskimo.
In a field methods class he was teaching, we had this Albanian informant, a young woman named Valbona Sherifi who happens to be a poet in her native language. She came in every day dressed as if to go to a discotheque. She even had a yellow fishnet shirt she wore over a black bra. One day she didn`t show up on time and Tony had us talking about genitive case marking or something, and a male student made a remark wondering what she would be wearing when she finally showed up. Tony asked why the student was wondering. We all laughed. Through some questioning, we realized Tony had never once noticed the way she dressed. Never. He was totally focused on the language.
About this same time, Tony wrote a letter to Bill Gates complaining about the general fucked-uppedness of Windows. He seemed to think Bill Gates would really care.
During thesis defenses, Tony likes to quote Meursault from The Stranger: 'It is important being the accused.'
Tony coaches a youth soccer team, makes his own wine and beer, does some work on Sicilian and Sicilian folklore, and always attempts to take the reasoned, sober approach to every problem. He is not a stereotypical Italian hothead.
And, yes, he intimidates the hell out of me. Out of everyone, really, because he is unimpeachable.