Bruria Kaufman

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The Annual Reviews have a tradition of featuring retrospective articles by or about senior figures, and the Annual Review of Linguistics has followed this pattern with pieces featuring Morris Halle in the 2016 volume and Bill Labov in 2017. For 2018, we'll be featuring Lila Gleitman.

As background, Barbara Partee, Cynthia McLemore and I spent the last couple of days interviewing Lila about her life and work. We've got more than 7.5 hours of recordings, which is more like a book than an article — and it may very well turn into a book as well, with edited interview material interspersed with reprints of Lila's papers. But what I want to post about today is one of the many things that I learned in the course of the discussions. This was just a footnote in Lila's life story, but it has its own intrinsic interest, and I'm hoping that some readers will be able to provide more information.

I learned that the founder of the Penn Linguistics Department, Zellig Harris, was married to a mathematical physicist named Bruria Kaufman. She worked with John von Neumann, wrote some widely-cited papers on crystal statistics in the late 1940s, published with Albert Einstein (Albert Einstein and Bruria Kaufman. "A new form of the general relativistic field equations", Annals of Mathematics, 1955), and later wrote papers like "Unitary symmetry of oscillators and the Talmi transformation", Journal of Mathematical Physics 1965, and "Special functions of mathematical physics from the viewpoint of Lie algebra", Journal of Mathematical Physics 1966.

The thing that interested me most was that Bruria Kaufman also worked for a while in the 1950s with Harris at Penn, at the same time as others including Lila Gleitman, Aravind Joshi, R.B. Lees, Naomi Sager, Zeno Vendler, and Noam Chomsky. And according to this 1961 NSF report, her contributions included Transformations and Discourse Analysis Papers (TDAP) numbers 19 and 20:

19. Higher-order Substrings and Well-formedness, Bruria Kaufman.
20. Iterative Computation of String Nesting (Fortran Code), Bruria Kaufman.

I've found a couple of citations to these works, but so far not the works themselves.

The 1961 NSF report says that

Paper 15 gives an information [sic — should be informal?] presentation of a general theory and method for syntactic recognition. Papers 16-19 give the actual flow charts of each section of the syntactic analysis program.

where 15-19 are

15. Computable Syntactic Analysis, Zellig S. Harris. (Revised version published as PoFL I, above)
16. Word and Word-Complex Dictionaries, Lila Gleitman.
17. Elimination of Alternative Classifications, Naomi Sager.
18. Recognition of Local Substrings, Aravind K. Joshi.
19. Higher-order Substrings and Well-formedness, Bruria Kaufman.

and "PoFL I" is Harris's String Analysis and Sentence Structure, 1962.

Aravind Joshi and Phil Hopely, "A parser from antiquity", Natural Language Engineering 1996, explains that

A parsing program was designed and implemented at the University of Pennsylvania during the period from June 1958 to July 1959. This program was part of the Transformations and Discourse Analysis Project (TDAP) directed by Zellig S. Harris. The techniques used in this program, besides being influenced by the particular linguistic theory, arose out of the need to deal with the extremely limited computational resources available at that time. The program was essentially a cascade of finite state transducers (FSTs).

More on the history from that source:

The original program was implemented in the assembly language on Univac 1, a single user machine. The machine had acoustic (mercury) delay line memory of 1000 words. Each word was 12 characters/digits, each character/digit was 6 bits. Lila Gleitman, Aravind Joshi, Bruria Kauffman, and Naomi Sager and a little later, Carol Chomsky were involved in the development and implementation of this program. A brief description of the program appears in Joshi 1961 and a somewhat generalized description of the grammar appears in Harris 1962.  This program is the precursor of the string grammar program of Naomi Sager at NYU, leading up to the current parsers of Ralph Grishman (NYU) and Lynette Hirschman (formerly at UNISYS, now at Mitre Corporation). Carol Chomsky took the program to MIT and it was used in the question-answer program of Green, BASEBALL (1961). At Penn, it led to a program for transformational analysis (kernels and transformations) (1963) and, in many ways, influenced the formal work on string adjunction (1972) and later tree-adjunction (1975).

The paper's bibliography cites

Transformations and Discourse Analysis Project (TDAP) Reports, University of Pennsylvania, Reports #15 through #19, 1959-60. Available in the Library of the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) (formerly known as the National Bureau of Standards (NBS)), Bethesda, MD.

So I'll ask my friends at NIST if these works are still there.



  1. Bob Crossley said,

    June 24, 2017 @ 2:25 pm

    Good way for a linguist to improve their Erdős Number?

    [(myl) Not really. Bruria Kaufman's Erdos number is 2, and she passed on in 2010, so she's no longer available as a co-author. I can't find any papers that she co-authored with linguists, but if there are any linguist co-authors, they would thereby have number 3, and working with them would yield an Erdos number of 4. But there are a number of linguists with Erdos numbers of 3 by other routes, including me — and at least one computational linguist with an Erdos number of 2, plus an active logician and philosopher of language with an Erdos number of 2..]

  2. David L said,

    June 24, 2017 @ 5:57 pm

    This has nothing to do with linguistics — I was curious about the Einstein connection. According to Abraham Pais in his Einstein bio, Subtle is the Lord, Kaufman was Einstein's personal assistant from 1950 to 1955, and the last (he died in 55). Princeton engaged a series of mathematically sophisticated people in that role, to help Einstein work through his ideas. The paper she coauthored was the last on Einstein's endless and fruitless effort to come up with a theory that would unify general relativity with classical electromagnetism. This was a rather quixotic venture, given that quantum electrodynamics was several years old by that time — not that Albert had any interest in that.

    Being Einstein's personal assistant in the last years of his life must have been a mixed blessing. You would get to know him and hear some interesting tales, I assume, but on the other hand nothing he did in that period has any substantial scientific value. It seems that Kaufman went on to produce independent and interesting work afterward, though.

  3. Stephen Goranson said,

    June 25, 2017 @ 6:23 am

    According to the Franklin catalog:
    Iterative computation of string nesting (Fortran code)

    Kaufman, Bruria.
    University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of Linguistics. Transformations and discourse analysis projects ; 20.
    [Philadelphia, 196-].
    Available. Van Pelt Library. P123 .P41 no.20
    Available. Van Pelt Library. P123 .P41 no.20
    Also, according to WorldCat, at HARVARD UNIV, CABOT SCI LIBR

  4. Stephen Goranson said,

    June 25, 2017 @ 6:27 am

    Higher-order substrings and well-formedness.
    Available. Van Pelt Library. P123 .P41 no.19

    WorldCat gives other holdings, by title, author either unlisted or as B. Kaufman.

    [(myl) Thanks — I should have checked. Yay libraries!]

  5. Coby Lubliner said,

    June 25, 2017 @ 9:44 am

    The inclusion of Naomi Sager (Paper 17) is interesting in that, according to Wikipedia, Zellig Harris had a "close relationship" with her.

  6. Gautam Menon said,

    June 27, 2017 @ 12:17 pm

    Bruria Kaufman is far more famous among physicists for her calculations of the properties of the two-dimensional Ising model, together with Lars Onsager of Yale than for the fact that she worked with Einstein. These are the crystal statistics papers you refer to. I didn't know that she also worked on linguistics.

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