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PostHeaderIcon Remembering Peter Ladefoged

Peter LadefogedObituary for Peter Ladefoged (1925-2006)
by Amedeo De Dominicis

Peter Ladefoged died suddenly on January 24, 2006, at the age of 80 in London, on his way home from field work in India. He was born on September 17, 1925, in Sutton, Surrey, England. In 1951 he received his MA at the University of Edinburgh and in 1959 his PhD from the same University. At Edinburgh he studied phonetics with David Abercrombie, a pupil of Daniel Jones and so also connected to Henry Sweet. Peter’s dissertation, The Nature of Vowel Quality, focused on the cardinal vowels and their articulatory vs. auditory basis. In 1953, he married Jenny MacDonald. In 1959-62 he carried out field researches in Africa that resulted in A Phonetic Study of West African Languages. In 1962 he moved to America permanently and joined the UCLA English Department where he founded the UCLA Phonetics Laboratory. Not long after he arrived at UCLA, he was asked to work as the phonetics consultant for the movie My Fair Lady (1964).

Three main cornerstones characterize Peter’s career: the fieldwork on little-studied sounds, instrumental laboratory phonetics and linguistic phonetic theory. He was particularly concerned about documenting the phonetic properties of endangered languages. His field research work covered a world-wide area, including the Aleutians, Australia, Botswana, Brazil, China, Ghana, India, Korea, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Scotland, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda and Yemen. Among many distinctive contributions to phonetics was his insistence on the huge diversity of phonetic phenomena in the languages of the world. Ladefoged’s fieldwork originated or refined many data collections and analytic techniques. His knowledge of all the sounds he had studied is summarized in his classic and definitive reference work (1996): Sounds of the World’s Languages (with Ian Maddieson). A key component of his fieldwork was laboratory phonetics and instrumental analysis; he explained his methods in his 2003 book Phonetic Data Analysis: An introduction to phonetic fieldwork and instrumental techniques. The crucial aim of his studies of the world’s sounds was to understand what sounds are possible in languages. He was deeply interested in the theory of phonetic features for representing phonological contrasts. In particular, he revised the list of features in order to distinguish all the contrasts of the world’s languages and investigated the articulatory vs. auditory basis of these features. But Peter’s legacy is not only scientific, but also human, made of incomparable curiosity, camaraderie and tireless enthusiasm. Ian Maddieson summarized this aspect of Peter’s life in this way: “Perhaps more than any other phonetician he has always expected to find surprises, and has gone to far corners of the world in search of them” (from his 2005 Acoustical Society presentation). He also devoted himself to teaching. Among his students we mention such influential figures as Vicki Fromkin, John Ohala, Ian Maddieson, Louis Goldstein, and Cathe Browman. Although Peter retired in 1991, he never stopped working. And that gives us another reason to deeply regret his loss. Over his career, he was the author of over 120 publications and eleven particularly influential books. Among his most well-known are: A Course in Phonetics, Vowels and Consonants: An Introduction to the Sounds of Languages, Three Areas of Experimental Phonetics, Phonetic Data Analysis: An Introduction to Fieldwork and Instrumental Techniques, Preliminaries to Linguistic Phonetics. Below is a list of his main publications and academic qualifications, which he gave me in preparation for the Proceedings of the International Conference on “Undescribed and endangered languages: the preservation of linguistic diversity” (held in University of Tuscia -Viterbo, Italy - on September 29, 2005).


1991 - : UCLA Research Linguist (Professor of Phonetics Emeritus).
1965 - 1991: Professor of Phonetics, Department of Linguistics, UCLA.
1977 - 1980: Chair, Department of Linguistics, UCLA.
1963 - 1965: Associate Professor Phonetics, Department of Linguistics, UCLA.
1962 - 1963: Assistant Professor Phonetics, Department of Linguistics, UCLA.
1961 - 1962: Field Fellow on the West African Languages Survey.
1960 - 1961: Lecturer in Phonetics, University of Edinburgh.
1959 - 1960: Lecturer in Phonetics, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
1955 - 1959: Lecturer in Phonetics, University of Edinburgh.
1953 - 1955: Assistant Lecturer in Phonetics, University of Edinburgh.

Honors (chronological order):

Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America.
Fellow of the American Speech and Hearing Association.
Distinguished Teaching Award, UCLA 1972.
President, Linguistic Society of America, 1978.
President of the Permanent Council for the Organization of International Congresses of Phonetic Sciences, 1983-1991.
President, International Phonetic Association, 1987-1991.
UCLA Research Lecturer, 1989.
Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1990.
UCLA College of Letters and Science Faculty Research Lecturer, 1991.
Gold medal, XIIth International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, 1991.
Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, 1992.
Honorary D.Litt., University of Edinburgh, 1993.
Foreign Member, Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 1993.
Silver medal, Acoustical Society of America, 1994.
Corresponding Fellow, Royal Society of Edinburgh, 2001.
Honorary D.Sc. Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, 2001.

Professional Societies:

Acoustical Society of America.
Linguistic Society of America (President in 1978).
American Speech and Hearing Association.
International Phonetic Association (President in 1985).

Books and monographs:

1) Ladefoged, P. (1962). The Nature of Vowel Quality. Monograph supplement to Revista do Laboratório de Fonética Experimental da Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Coimbra, (93 pages).
2) Ladefoged, P. (1962). Elements of Acoustic Phonetics. University of Chicago Press (vii + 118 pages). Paperback edition, 1971. Translation into Japanese, Taishukan Publishing Company, 1976. Second edition, with added chapters on computational phonetics 1996.
3) Ladefoged, P. (1964). A Phonetic Study of West African Languages. Cambridge University Press, (vii + 180 pages). Reprinted 1968.
4) Ladefoged, P. (1967). Three Areas of Experimental Phonetics. Oxford University Press (vii + 180 pages).
5) Ladefoged, P., Glick, R. and Criper, C. (1969). Language in Uganda. Oxford University Press (viii + 168 pages).
6) Ladefoged, P. (1971). Preliminaries to Linguistic Phonetics. University of Chicago Press (ix + 122 pages).
7) Ladefoged, P. (1975). A Course in Phonetics. Harcourt (xvi + 300 pages). 1982 2nd ed, 1993 3rd ed, 2001 4th ed. Japanese translation 2000.
8) Enkvist, N.E., Ferguson, C., Hajicova, E., Ladefoged, P. (1992). Linguistic Research in Sweden HSFR. Swedish Science Press (128 pages).
9) Ladefoged, P. and Maddieson, I. (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Blackwells (xviii + 425 pages).
10) Ladefoged, P. (2001). Vowels and consonants: An introduction to the sounds of languages. (xxi + 191 pages) Blackwells.
11) Ladefoged, P. (2004). Phonetic Data Analysis: an Introduction to Instrumental Phonetic Fieldwork. Blackwells.

Over 120 papers in professional journals. Recent papers include:

1) Ladefoged, P., Ladefoged, J.,Turk, A., Hind, K., & Skilton, S. J. (1998). Phonetic Structures of Scottish Gaelic. Journal of the International Phohetic Association, 28, 1-.42.
2) Maddieson, I., Ladefoged, P., & Sands, B. (1999). Clicks in East African languages. In R. Finlayson (ed.), African Mosaic: Festschrift for J.A. Louw. Johannesburg: UNISA press.
3) Cho, T., Jun, S.-A., & Ladefoged, P. (2000). An acoustic and aerodynamic study of consonants in Cheju. The Korean Journal of Speech Sciences, 7(1), 109-141.
4) Ladefoged, P. and Cho, T. (2001) Linking linguistic contrasts to reality: the case of VOT. In N. Grønnum & J. Rischel (eds.) To Honour Eli Fischer-Jørgensen. (pp.212-225). Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzel.
5) Taff, A., Rozelle, L., Cho, T., Ladefoged, P., Dirks, M. & Wegelin, J. (2001). Phonetic structures of Aleut. Journal of Phonetics, 29, 231 - 271.
6) Gordon, M., Potter, B., Dawson, J., de Reuse, W., & Ladefoged, P. (2001). Phonetic structures of Western Apache. International Journal of American Linguistics, 67(4), 415-48.
7) Gordon, M., Munro, P., & Ladefoged, P. (2000). Some phonetic structures of Chickasaw. Anthropological Linguistics, 42:3.
8) Gordon, M. & Ladefoged, P. (2001). Phonation types: a cross-linguistic review. Journal of Phonetics, 29, 383-406.
9) Cho, T., Jun, S.-A. & Ladefoged, P. (2002). Acoustic and aerodynamic correlates of Korean stops and fricatives. Journal of Phonetics, 30(2), 193-228.

Amedeo De Dominicis
Università della Tuscia, Viterbo, Italy

Last Updated ( Thursday, 06 January 2011 14:31 )