The obvious question most theoretical linguists will ask on learning
that
Kiyosi Itô has been announced
as the first winner of the new
Gauss Prize in
mathematics (a major $11,500 prize established by the
International Mathematical
Union, comparable to a Nobel for mathematicians) is whether
perhaps — given that unusual circumflex accent used to mark length on the final vowel — he might be some relation
of Junko Itô, my phonologist colleague
in the Department of Linguistics at the
University of California, Santa Cruz
(and my department chair until this past June 30). And the answer is yes. It is
Junko's dad. Junko flew to Kyoto to be with her family before the award became
public, and the plan was for the whole family to fly
from there to Spain to be present at the public
award ceremony at the International Congress of Mathematicians
in Madrid this week.
However, Kiyosi Itô (who is 90 now) was not in
good enough health
for such a long flight, so Junko went to the ceremony to receive
the award from the King of Spain on her father's
behalf, and thus became one of the very few linguists to
receive a congratulatory handshake from a reigning
monarch (there is a
photo of it on page 5 of the
August 23
*ICM Daily News*).
Best wishes from Language Log to the whole Itô family:
Kiyosi's stunning work in creating stochastic differential equations and founding
the study of mathematical operations on stochastic processes (the
Itô calculus,
originating as far back as the mid-1940s) is long overdue for recognition
at this level. And if there was a special award for being a fine phonological
theorist, a dedicated administrator, and a great colleague,
then Junko would be collecting a prize for herself.

Update: The above was modified when I learned after posting it that the family's plans had changed and Kiyosi had not been able to attend the ceremony in Madrid.

Incidentally, this meant that **two** honored awardees
were absent fromthe congress of the International
Mathematical Union, as
you'll read in the newsletter:
the chosen winner of the Fields Medal
(awarded every four years to a mathematician under 40 who has
done truly ground-breaking work) was
Grigori Perelman of St Petersburg, Russia, but he simply
refused to come to the congress, or accept the medal at all,
despite extraordinary efforts by the president of the IMU to persuade
him. Perelman doesn't want a medal. It is not even clear that he will
accept the Clay Institute prize of $1 million for his solution to the
Poincaré
conjecture
if it is offered to him. He simply wants to have correctly proved the
conjecture.
No one has ever declined the Fields Medal before.