January 27, 2006

The late Peter Ladefoged

I'm just not ready to write an obituary for Peter Ladefoged, whose death I just learned of today. But I will just say a word here about my own grief at the death of this man, a good friend and University of California colleague, who at his death was the most distinguished and important phonetician in the world and the active holder (at the age of 80) of one of the largest NSF grants ever given for pure linguistics research. He was loved by everyone who knew him. His works dominated the field — I have taught phonetics out of Ladefoged texts since 1982, and I treasure my copy of The Sounds of the World's Languages. We plan to simply steal the title of the latter book as the name for a new freshman course at UC Santa Cruz in 2006-2007, and I know Peter would have been very pleased. He was a fine raconteur, a tireless investigator of languages, a pioneer in archiving and digitalteaching aids, an original thinker, a pillar of the International Phonetic Association, a true gentleman, a wonderful human being. And he had this deep, dark, rich British voice, part James Earl Jones, part Christopher Lee. It is a very sad thought that never again, when I call the UCLA Phonetics Laboratory that he founded, will I hear that voice saying, "Peter Ladefoged here." All those of us who knew him will miss him so much. Those who know nothing much about phonetics but would like to could learn a great deal about it by consulting his relatively popular book Vowels and Consonants (2000; ISBN 0631214127).

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at January 27, 2006 04:40 PM