Zeno Vendler was born in Hungary in 1921. He was educated there until he joined the Society of Jesus and trained for the priesthood in Holland. His doctoral studies in philosophy were at Harvard University, where he took his degree in 1959. He left the order shortly thereafter, and taught philosophy in a number of American colleges and universities. In 1965, he was a founding member of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Calgary. In 1973, he moved to Rice University and then, the next year, to the University of California at San Diego. After his retirement in 1989, he lived on the Oregon coast for a number of years until he returned to Hungary, where he died on January 13, 2004. He was married twice, and had a son by each marriage.
Zeno was raised in a German speaking family in Hungary, and thus started out bilingual in German and Hungarian. He became fluent in Latin and Dutch during his stay in a Jesuit seminary in Holland. He fell in love with English, though he learned it relatively late. Ordinary language philosophy was thus tailor-made for Vendler's passion and reflection. Vendler was also initiated into modern linguistics through his association with Zelig Harris. After completing his dissertation at Harvard, by lucky chance, he got a position in Harris's project on grammatical transformations. Vendler regarded Harris as a true genius. The result of this tutorial was a famous monograph on Adjectives and Nominalizations. Vendler is well-known among linguists, most notably through two early works: "Each and every, any and all" and "verbs and times." The first is an analysis of subtle differences among four English words that correspond to universal quantifier in logic. The second concerns the often subtle effects of verb expressions on aspectual interpretation of sentences; the two terms Vendler introduced in the discussion of this topic area, "achievement" and "accomplishment," have since become part of the basic technical vocabulary in modern linguistics. Both of these works have been very influential and served as sources for the later development of sophisticated and highly technical treatments of their respective topic areas. It may also be noted that Vendler's work on the order of prenominal modifiers provides a precursor to theories of parsing.
Although much of Vendler’s work involved the careful analysis of everyday language, such efforts were nearly always directed toward understanding traditional philosophical issues in epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of mind and language. From his earliest writings to his last book, The Matter of Minds (1984), Zeno was a defender of a sophisticated form of Cartesianism. He argued that mental phenomena were different from and irreducible to physical phenomena, and used the resources of linguistics and ordinary language to support this point of view. He was a delightful conversationalist. Zeno's passion for language was eclipsed only by his infatuation with geography. He was a great traveler; his last major trip, when he was about eighty, was a cruise to Antarctica, the last continent for him to reach. He was a dedicated and accomplished photographer. He took pride in his ability to hold the camera still long enough to take pictures in dark places without a flash or a tripod. Zeno was the author of four books and more than thirty articles and reviews. The undersigned wish to thank Ernest Lepore and S.-Y. Kuroda for their help with this memorial resolution.
“Verbs and Times”, Philosophical Review 56 (1957): 143–60.
Linguistics in Philosophy (Ithaca, 1967).
Adjectives and nominalizations (The Hague, 1968).
Res cogitans: an essay in rational psychology (Ithaca, 1972).
The matter of minds. Oxford : Clarendon Press (New York, 1984).
The present study focuses on children's comprehension and metapragmatic knowledge of promises. Searle (1969) defines a promise as a commitment on the part of a speaker to accomplish a future action. Two conditions govern the fulfillment of a promise: the preparatory condition (the listener wants the promised action to be accomplished) and a sincerity condition (the speaker intends to accomplish the action). Two experiments were conducted. The first was designed to determine how children's comprehension of promises and their corresponding metapragmatic knowledge is affected by whether or not the preparatory condition is satisfied, and by the linguistic form of the statement (contains vs. does not contain the verb promise). The second experiment was designed to determine the effects of the linguistic form of the promise statement and of whether or not the sincerity condition is satisfied. Children between the ages of 3 and 10 were asked to complete comic strip stories and justify their responses. The main results showed the following: (1) By the age of 3, both the preparatory condition and the sincerity condition are used by children to comprehend promises, the sincerity condition being mastered earlier than the preparatory condition: (2) The metapragmatic knowledge children express about promises depends on the characteristics of the communication situation (whether or not the preparatory and sincerity conditions are met); (3) Children's metapragmatic knowledge changes with age: references to execution of the promised action appear between the ages of 3 and 6, whereas remarks concerning the speaker's intentions are not observed until age 10; (4) The linguistic form of the statement has little effect on promise comprehension and thus deserves further investigation. The results are interpreted in the light of the functionalist and interactionist theories of development.