dinsdag 9 juli 2013

Noam Chomsky and Mouton & Co.

‘A GREAT AND ENTHRALLING ADVENTURE’: C.H. VAN SCHOONEVELD, PETER DE RIDDER AND MOUTON & CO.

[…] Noam Chomsky’s book Syntactic structures would become a bestseller and be profitable for both Mouton and Janua linguarum, the series in which the book appeared in 1957. In his letter to Van Schooneveld dated August 5, 1956, Chomsky apologizes for the delay in sending his manuscript. It seems that Van Schooneveld had seen the manuscript before: ‘You made a few notes of your own on the first page of the manuscript. I have since rewritten this page […].’ The rest of the letter concerns typographical matters.
     Van Schooneveld had received the manuscript in question through Morris Halle. De Ridder’s letter to Van Schooneveld, dated July 5, 1956, mentions Chomsky for the first time, but also the success of some formerly published volumes in the series:


Zeer blij ben ik met Uw bericht over de nieuwe deeltjes voor de Janua Linguarum: die van Chomsky en van Halle en Chomsky. Het succes van de eerste twee deeltjes (Jakobson-Halle [=Fundamentals of language, 1955]: 350 exx. verkocht; van Wijk [=Les langues slaves: de l’unité à la pluralité, 1955]: 170 exx. verkocht; beide in goed 3 maanden!) maakt het mogelijk, in deze reeks zonder meer nieuwe titels uit te geven, mits niet omvangrijker dan ‘n 120 pagina’s.

[I am very happy with your message about the new volumes for the Janua Linguarum; the one from Chomsky and the one from Halle and Chomsky. The success of the first two volumes (Jakobson-Halle [=Fundamentals of language, 1955]: 350 copies sold; van Wijk [=Les langues slaves: de l’unité à la pluralité, 1955]: 170 copies sold; both in a mere 3 months!) make it possible to publish new titles in this series: the only limitation is that they not exceed about 120 pages.]


Apparently, Chomsky’s employer, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had proposed to buy copies of the book, because on July 30, 1956 De Ridder writes to Van Schooneveld: ‘Vanzelfsprekend zal ik gaarne een belangrijke korting geven, wanneer het MIT 250 exemplaren […] wil’ [It goes without saying that I would gladly give a considerable discount if MIT wants 250 copies…’]. In a letter to Van Schooneveld, dated August 17, 1956, De Ridder continues:


Chomsky. Ik ben blij dat zijn ms. voor de Janua onderweg is. Ook ik ben er van overtuigd, dat dit boek onder deze titel goed zal verkopen; als de verkoop maar half zo goed wordt als die van Jakobson-Halle ben ik al tevreden (tot nu toe bijna 400 exx.!). Uiteraard is het jammer, dat U bezwaren hebt tegen Chomsky’s theorie, terminologie, etc., maar het lijkt mij niet te vermijden, dat in een serie werken verschijnen waar de redacteur het niet helemaal mee eens is. Du choc des opinions résulte la vérité…
 
[Chomsky. I am glad that this ms. for the Janua is on its way. I am also convinced that this book will sell well under this title. If sales are only half as good as the Jakobson-Halle book (so far almost 400 copies!), then I will be pleased. Naturally it is pity that you have objections to Chomsky’s theory, terminology, etc., but I think that it is unavoidable that a series would have books with which the editor does not entirely agree. Du choc des opinions résulte la vérité…]
 
On August 25, 1956 De Ridder mentions:

Hierbij bevestig ik de goede ontvangst van Chomsky’s manuscript “Syntactic Structures”(Janua Linguarum IV). Het geval ziet er inderdaad nogal dor en droog uit, maar ik twijfel er niet aan dat de verkoop beslist redelijk zal zijn. Bovendien neemt de aangekondigde grote bestelling van het MIT ongeveer de helft van het risico weg. Ik heb het manuscript grondig doorgewerkt wat betreft de technische zaken. Met Uw voorstellen en aanwijzingen kan ik accoord gaan. De voetnoten heb ik per hoofdstuk doorgenummerd. Chomsky’s methode van verwijzingen in de noten is inderdaad erg lelijk, maar komt (helaas) meer en meer in gebruik. Ik laat het manuscript van de voetnoten nu even overtypen, met de volledige verwijzingen voluit er in, definitieve nummering, etc., en daarna kan het manuscript naar de zetter.
[This confirms that I have received Chomsky’s manuscript “Syntactic Structures” (Janua Linguarum IV), in good condition. The thing seems indeed rather dry, but I do not doubt that the sales will be reasonable. In addition, the large order that MIT announced takes away about half the risk. I have thoroughly gone through the manuscript in connection with technical aspects. I agree with your proposals and remarks. I have sequentially numbered the footnotes by chapter. Chomsky’s method of using references is indeed quite ugly, but seems (sadly) to be being used more and more. I am having the manuscript of the footnotes retyped, with the full references, final numbering, etc., and then the manuscript can be sent to the typesetter.]

In a letter, dated November 3, 1959, De Ridder expresses himself to Van Schooneveld, who was no proponent of publishing Syntactic structures, rather cautiously concerning Chomsky and states in general terms: ‘Je weet dat de financiering van werken van zeer goed gehalte nu eenmaal moet worden mogelijk gemaakt door het uitgeven van boeken van mindere kwaliteit.’ [‘To be realistic, you know that financing works of very good quality must be made possible by publishing books of lesser quality.’]  
     Chomsky published a total of four books in Janua linguarum: Syntactic structures (1957), Current issues in linguistic theory (1964), Topics in the theory of generative grammar (1966) and Studies on semantics in generative grammar (1972). Mouton also was interested in Chomsky’s dissertation  Logical structure of linguistic theory (1955). In  a letter, dated September 12, 1957 (received on September 25, 1957 by  Van Schooneveld in Belgrade, according to a note on the letter) Chomsky writes that he has a ‘tentative agreement’ with North Holland Publishers to publish it, ‘if it meets their length requirements (i.e., if it’s shortened sufficiently)’, but that he does not want to commit to anything because he is still not pleased with the present state of the manuscript. Possibly, he continues, the manuscript would be ready sometime during 1958. It would ultimately take until 1975 for the book to come out in New York with Plenum Press, even after Mouton had tried until 1965 to publish it itself anyway. Moreover, Chomsky had once suggested that he could not get his Logical structure of linguistic theory published. […]

Jan Paul Hinrichs

| Published earlier in: Jan Paul Hinrichs, The C.H. van Schooneveld Collection in Leiden University Library. Editorial correspondence and documents relating to Mouton & Co., The Hague, and other papers in the fields of Slavistics and linguistics (Leiden: Leiden University Library, 2001), pp. 7-9.