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Peter Ladefoged, 80, and why we need to keep our

Obituaries Peter Ladefoged Phonetician 2006

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#1 Nonny

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Posted 28 January 2006 - 11:02 PM

My best friend called me today to tell me that my favorite phonetician had died.  Peter Ladefoged's wife Jenny had joined my old church (He said that she was a "notorious Episcopal Churchwoman," and that he was an "Atheist for Jesus"  :lol: ) when he retired from UCLA.  On his way home from Bombay, Professor Ladefoged fell sick, was taken to a hospital in London, and died.  He hadn't updated his emergency information in his passport, so his wife was not informed till the police managed to track her down in Orange County.  She had actually gone to LAX to pick him up Tuesday night, but when he didn't show, didn't panic, since travel plans do go awry.  :(  

Anyway, I admired him, and his textbook is a classic.  

Excerpts from the obituary in the LA Times:

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Peter Ladefoged, 80; Documented Endangered Languages
By Valerie J. Nelson, Times Staff Writer

Peter Ladefoged, a leading linguist phonetician who traveled the world to document the distinct sounds of endangered languages and pioneered ways to collect and study data, has died. He was 80.

Ladefoged, a UCLA professor emeritus, died Tuesday at a London hospital after becoming ill following a research trip to India, the university announced.

When Ladefoged entered the field in the late 1950s, he married linguistic fieldwork and phonetics in a new way, said Pat Keating, a UCLA linguistics professor.

"He did extensive linguistic fieldwork on a scale it had not been done before; and when he brought it back from the field, he found ways to use sophisticated laboratory equipment to analyze his recordings," she said.

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Soon after moving to Los Angeles from Scotland to become an assistant professor at UCLA in 1962, Ladefoged had a brief career in Hollywood as the chief linguistic consultant on the 1964 film "My Fair Lady."

Director George Cukor wanted him to teach the film's star, Rex Harrison who would win an Oscar for the role of Professor Henry Higgins to behave like a phonetician.

"My immediate answer was, 'I don't have a singing butler and three maids who sing, but I will tell you what I can as an assistant professor,' " Ladefoged told The Times in 2004.

Ladefoged helped set up the film set's phonetics laboratory, taught Harrison to read phonetic symbols and ate the cookies that the film's co-star, Audrey Hepburn, baked for crew members.

"I'd never heard of Cukor. It just struck me as the chance to earn a fortune each week," Ladefoged said. "It was just so much more than a professor's salary. It paid me enough to buy my first car in America."

The professor's voice is preserved on the soundtrack. When Professor Higgins stomps down the stairs, he knocks a record player that starts playing a recording of Ladefoged making vowel sounds.

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After serving in the British army near the end of World War II, Ladefoged enrolled in the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

He intended to study English literature but soon became fascinated by the sounds of speech.

"I wanted to find out why Shelley could write better-sounding poetry than I," he told The Times in 1970.

Ladefoged never answered that question but earned a master's degree and then a doctorate in phonetics in 1959 at Edinburgh.

He returned to Nigeria, where he had already spent a year, to record speakers of about 60 languages.

Within a few years, he had traveled to Africa, Mexico, India and Uganda. Later, he went to Australia, Papua New Guinea, China, Brazil and many other countries.

When he married in 1953, his wife, Jenny, became his collaborator. He promised they would visit every continent, and they did.

Quote

One of the 10 books he published, "A Course in Phonetics," was just released in its fifth edition and is widely used in college classrooms. "The Sounds of the World's Languages" (1996), written with his research partner Ian Maddieson, described every sound the two had come across and became a prominent reference work.
Rest in Peace, Professor.  

Nonny

Edited by Nonny, 29 January 2006 - 10:32 PM.

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The once and future Nonny

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#2 Anastashia

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 06:55 PM

so many interesting people in our world that we know nothing about. Thanks for posting this Nonny may he RIP.
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#3 AnneZo

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 09:05 PM

What an amazing life.

Thanks for sharing the story.

#4 Nonny

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 10:31 PM

From the UCLA obituary:

Quote

"Every language that dies represents a loss of human culture and a loss of a way of organizing life," Ladefoged once said. "In a few decades, or sooner, the opportunity to study many of these languages will no longer be available. By the time the next millennium comes around, probably all but a handful of the world's languages will have disappeared. This is the price of globalization. Linguists view language as a window into the way that the mind works, and every language that disappears means the shutting of another window with a slightly different view. We can only scrape the surface of recording dying languages. There is no earthly way we can record several thousand of them, but we will do what we can.

"As one young Apache put it to me, 'We can no longer speak to our ancestors,' a tragedy that violated his soul."

More than 6,000 languages are spoken across the globe today, but the number is dwindling at an unprecedented rate. Not more than a few hundred languages have been studied or recorded extensively, and because many do not exist in written form, they will be lost forever.  Ladefoged and Ian Maddieson a former colleague at UCLA salvaged as much knowledge as possible about dying languages, research that was federally funded by the National Science Foundation.

Ladefoged and Maddieson documented dramatically different types of languages that are each illustrative of the many ways that linguistic sounds can differ; for many of these languages, no prior phonetic record existed. Their research took them to remote villages and isolated towns in Africa, India, South America, the former Soviet Union, China and Australia. They recalled with good humor the time they drove a Jeep through an East African river to record speakers of an endangered language, and the time their Jeep ran out of gas miles from the village where they were staying. They never regretted a day of it.

Ladefoged and Maddieson studied, among other questions, how many distinct vowels and consonants languages employ and what combinations of vowels and consonants are possible.  In addition to preserving records of endangered languages, their research provides insights into the development and evolution of languages, as well as the historical relationships between languages.

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"I have enjoyed wandering to many corners of the earth, though fieldwork has not always been comfortable. I remember once sitting in a small boat in the Niger Delta, made for perhaps 12 people. The 24 of us crammed in there were huddled under a ground sheet as torrential rain was pouring down. I had my expensive tape recorder and microphones in a theoretically waterproof bag in the bottom of the boat, with the water slowly rising. Wet and worried, I wondered whether our insurance really covered the thousands of dollars of equipment. But later we sat in the village chief's hut, poured a libation of some strange potent liquor and recorded a dozen speakers of Defaka, a dying language spoken by only a few hundred people on one of the islands in the Niger Delta. When the skies had cleared, we went back in an old dugout canoe. Warm and dry, I watched the sun setting, thinking how lucky I was to have these opportunities.

"Another delight of fieldwork is the charm of the people one meets. The !X, who were willing to have tubes put through their noses; the Hadza who have fewer possessions than anyone I know, except perhaps the Pirah, who live with little thought for the morrow; the Toda whose courtesy and helpfulness were unparalleled; the Tsou, who could not understand why anyone would come to their mountain to record their sounds; and all manner of peoples from the Aleutian Islands to the Australian outback."

The world's languages collectively contain more than a thousand sounds, including at least 200 vowels. Ladefoged and Maddieson's 1996 book, "The Sounds of the World's Languages," remains the most comprehensive and definitive book on the subject. Ladefoged's other books include "A Course in Phonetics," the standard in the field and one of the most successful textbooks in the entire field of linguistics, which has trained generations of linguists; and his 2003 "Phonetic Data Analysis: An Introduction to Phonetic Fieldwork and Instrumental Techniques," which teaches other linguists how to carry out field studies like his.

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The once and future Nonny

"Give a man a gun and he can rob a bank, give a man a bank and he can rob the world." Can anyone tell me who I am quoting?  I found this with no attribution.

Fatal miscarriages are forever.

Stupid is stupid, this I believe. And ignorance is the worst kind of stupid, since ignorance is a choice.  Suzanne Brockmann

All things must be examined, debated, investigated without exception and without regard for anyone's feelings. Diderot

#5 Kosh

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Posted 30 January 2006 - 03:07 PM

Quote

The professor's voice is preserved on the soundtrack. When Professor Higgins stomps down the stairs, he knocks a record player that starts playing a recording of Ladefoged making vowel sounds.


I'll be listening for it now. Preserved forever.
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