Remembering Peter Ladefoged

This page was compiled during the weeks and months following Peter Ladefoged’s death in 2006.  A great many people who knew Peter kindly sent in their memories to share on this page.  The Linguistics Department will maintain the page as a historical record of a distinguished linguist, teacher, and colleague.

The UCLA Linguistics Department is mourning the loss of one of its most eminent members, Peter Ladefoged.  Peter died suddenly on January 24, 2006, at the age of 80, while in London; he was changing flights on his way home from field work in India.

Peter will be remembered for his outstanding contributions to phonetics and linguistics, for his lively and impassioned teaching, and for his service as mentor to a great number of Ph.D. students and to his junior colleagues. Peter made our Phonetics Laboratory, and our Department, a very special place.

The purpose of this page is to allow members of the department (both present and past), and other friends and colleagues of Peter, to share memories and thoughts about Peter Ladefoged.  If you like to contribute please send text or images to Bruce Hayes at .

  • Peter Ladefoged’s family have designated a picture of him for obituaries and other public use; click here to view.

  • A record of the memorial service for Peter, which took place February 4, 2006.

A recent picture of Peter with Jenny; the academic regalia was for purposes of receiving an honorary degree at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. Thanks to Kuniko Neilsen.

An academic life” (a brief professional autobiography, written a few years ago)

An obituary by Pat Keating, with help from Dani Byrd

Peter Ladefoged was born on Sept.17, 1925, in Sutton, Surrey, England. He attended Haileybury from 1938 to 1943, and Caius College Cambridge from 1943 to 1944. His university education was then interrupted by his war service in the Royal Sussex Regiment from 1944 to 1947. He resumed his education at the University of Edinburgh, where he received an MA in 1951 and a PhD in 1959. At Edinburgh he studied phonetics with David Abercrombie, who himself had studied with Daniel Jones and was thus connected to Henry Sweet. Peter’s dissertation was on The Nature of Vowel Quality, specifically on the cardinal vowels and their articulatory vs. auditory basis. At the same time, he began important research projects with Donald Broadbent, Walter Lawrence, M. Draper, and D. Witteridge, with his first publications appearing in 1956. His 1957 paper with Donald Broadbent, “Information conveyed by vowels”, was particularly influential. In 1953, he married Jenny MacDonald; he told her that if she married him they would travel to every continent.

In 1959-60 Peter taught in Nigeria, and thus began his lifelong commitment to instrumental phonetic fieldwork. He returned to Africa in 1961-62 to do the work that resulted in A Phonetic Study of West African Languages. Peter himself wrote in its introduction, “I do not know of any previous attempt to use data provided by palatograms, linguagrams, casts of the mouth, photographs of the lips and spectrograms all of the same utterance, supplemented by tracings of cine-radiology films and pressure and flow recordings of similar utterances of the same word”; and this was for 61 languages! Ian Maddieson has noted that nothing like it has been done since.

When not in Africa, Peter was teaching at Edinburgh. After summer research visits at the Royal Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan, the Ladefogeds decided to move to America permanently. Peter joined the UCLA English Department in 1962, and in 1966 he moved to the newly-formed Linguistics Department. He established, and directed until 1991, the UCLA Phonetics Laboratory, which became the most prominent linguistic phonetics laboratory in the world.

Not long after he arrived at UCLA, he was asked to work as the phonetics consultant for the 1964 movie My Fair Lady. He advised on equipping Henry Higgins’s phonetics lab, he made all the phonetic transcriptions seen on-screen, and it is his voice heard producing the vowel sounds. A picture of him on the movie set is on the UCLA Phonetics Lab’s home page, and Peter gave a multimedia lecture about his experience to the UCLA Friends of Linguistics in Spring 2004.

During his career Peter became a world-wide field linguist, visiting Nigeria, Botswana, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Senegal, India, Yemen, Papua New Guinea, Nepal, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Korea, Scotland, the Aleutians, and China . Much of Peter’s fieldwork remains unique to this day. Many data collection and analytic techniques in the field were originated or refined by Peter (and often tried out on himself). His instantly-classic 1996 Sounds of the World’s Languages (with Ian Maddieson) summarized his knowledge of all the sounds he had studied and remains the definitive reference work. Ian Maddieson summarized this aspect of Peter’s career in this way: “Among many distinctive contributions to phonetics by Peter Ladefoged is an insistence on the immense diversity of phonetic phenomena in the languages of the world, particularly at the segmental level. (…) 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; punctuation added].

Peter loved laboratory phonetics, and instrumental analysis was always a key component of his fieldwork. Earlier in his career, the instruments were back home in the Phonetics Lab, but later he brought the lab to the field. His 2003 book Phonetic Data Analysis: An introduction to phonetic fieldwork and instrumental techniques teaches other linguists his methods. But his laboratory interests went beyond recording sounds of the world’s languages. He studied speech production in English speakers, from the electromyography of speech respiration to tongue positions of vowels to articulatory-acoustic modeling. And throughout his career he was interested in speech technology, especially speech synthesis. He also consulted on many cases of forensic speaker identification.

Fieldwork on little-studied sounds and instrumental laboratory phonetics were two cornerstones of Peter’s career. The third was linguistic phonetic theory. The ultimate aim of his studies of the world’s sounds was to understand what sounds are possible in languages. His particular passion was the theory of phonetic features for representing phonological contrasts: what features should be proposed in order to distinguish all the contrasts of the world’s languages? Should these features be articulatory or auditory or some of each? A related concern was the International Phonetic Alphabet: Peter instigated its expansion in the early 1990s to include symbols for more sounds, he oversaw the preparation and publication of a new Handbook describing the principles behind the alphabet, and he worked to ensure that computer fonts of the alphabet would be widely available. The current vibrant state of the IPA is part of Peter’s legacy.

Over his career, he produced 10 books and over 140 other publications. Among the books not mentioned above are Elements of acoustic phonetics (2 editions), Preliminaries to linguistic phonetics, and Vowels and consonants (2 editions). He was working on “Representing linguistic phonetic structure” in 2006.

Peter was also a dedicated and successful teacher. His classroom teaching at UCLA, from introductory linguistics to advanced graduate courses, was always exemplary. His 20 PhD students included such influential figures as Vicki Fromkin, John Ohala, Ian Maddieson, Louis Goldstein, and Cathe Browman. His textbook A Course in Phonetics, which recently released its fifth edition, is the standard in phonetics. It has been one of the most successful textbooks in the field of linguistics, having trained multiple generations of linguists. It draws on his extensive fieldwork experience and has shown generations of students the richness of linguistic sounds. Peter developed computer-based teaching materials for this and other courses, materials now used on-line all over the world. He valued the daily interactions in the Phonetics Lab as an important aspect of his mentoring. In Ian Maddieson’s words, “Peter’s legacies include more than his writing – they include the development of a teaching style and the creation of the UCLA Phonetics Laboratory. As Peter put it in the career summary on his website, “For me, the people mattered more than the equipment”. Peter created a lab that remains a model of camaraderie, intellectual challenge and pragmatism.”

Among the ways in which his contributions have been honored by colleagues are: a 1972 Distinguished Teaching Award from the UCLA Alumni Association; the 1985 Festschrift edited by Vicki Fromkin, Phonetic Linguistics: Essays in Honor of Peter Ladefoged for his 60th Birthday; the UCLA College of Letters and Sciences Faculty Award in 1991; the Gold Medal at the XIIth International Congress of Phonetic Sciences; a D. Lit. degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1993; the Silver Medal in Speech Communication of the Acoustical Society of America in 1994; a Doctor of Science degree from Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh in 2002; and the special session “Phonetic Linguistics: Honoring the contributions of Peter Ladefoged” at the October 2005 meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. He was president of the Linguistic Society of America in 1978, and of the International Phonetic Association in 1985.

Although Peter retired in 1991, he never stopped working. At the time of his death he was active as a Research Linguist at UCLA, especially with his NSF grant “Broadening Access to UCLA Phonetic Data”; as one of three editors of the Journal of the International Phonetic Association; as a council member of the International Phonetic Association, and as an Adjunct Professor of Linguistics at USC.

He will be deeply missed by many people.

Press obituaries

Los Angeles Times
New York Times
UCLA press release
Daily Telegraph
UCLA Daily Bruin
The Independent
Associated Press (appeared in many newspapers around the world)

From Ken Stevens:

Dear Pat,

This is sad news about Peter — a major influence in our field. He has been a contributor of data and interpretations which he has provided freely to the world, a teacher of generations of students, and a great person with integrity and wit.

We join you in the feeling of loss for this great friend.


A card from Joe Perkell“To Jenny, Ian, Pat and the countless others who knew and loved Peter, My deepest sympathies. I can’t find words to express the depth of sadness I feel. Peter was a great man and a great phonetician – generous, kind and easy to love. It’s impossible to imagine our community without him.”

A picture of Peter taken for an Australian television network

A phonologist’s appreciation of Peter Ladefoged

Peter Ladefoged was trained in an ancient and hallowed tradition, descriptive British phonetics.  He was the student of David Abercrombie, who was the student of Daniel Jones, who was (probably) the real-life model for Henry Higgins.  In fact, Peter knew how to make all the cardinal vowels, and brought a branch of this tradition to America with his famous, ever-replicated undergraduate course.  But though trained in an old tradition, Peter had no interest in gathering moss. In his career, he transformed phonetics into a modern discipline, making use of a great range of technologies, and interfaced with phonology, psycholinguistics, and engineering.

Phonologists everywhere looked to Peter’s work for a deeper understanding of phonetics.  His influence is apparent throughout Chapter 7, the feature theory chapter, of Chomsky and Halle’s Sound Pattern of English (1968), and to the end of his career Peter was closely engaged in the theoretical debates about distinctive features (click here for his last word on the topic).  Thanks to Peter’s friendly and open-minded intellectual stance, the UCLA Linguistics Department for decades has fostered research on the interaction of phonetics and phonology.

Peter was ahead of the whole field of linguistics, I believe, in his pursuit of universal coverage.  His many safari expeditions, laden (before laptops) with much heavy equipment, made our knowledge of the sounds of the world’s languages more comprehensive that that of any other area.  These were codified in Peter’s magnum opus on the topic, The Sounds of the World’s Languages, which he wrote with his close and longtime colleague Ian Maddieson, and in Peter’s last research project, the online UCLA Phonetics Lab Archive.

For me, Peter was a model empirical scientist–abounding in energy and optimism, filled with intellectual cunning and shrewdness, generous and open with his colleagues, ready to take advantage of all new opportunities with data and technology, and attuned to the theoretical questions on which his work bore.

Peter brightened my day whenever he was here, and I will miss him very much indeed.

Bruce Hayes

A valuable pictorial biography of Peter Ladefoged is found in Jenny’s presentation to the Acoustical Society of America on the occasion of his 80th birthday, viewable here as a Power Point presentation.

Material from Peter’s
80th Birthday Celebration

Peter turned 80 on September 17, 2005, and a birthday celebration was organized by Pat Keating on Oct. 20 at the fall meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Minneapolis. Many of Peter’s students and Acoustical Society colleagues were able to attend, and since Peter’s death many have said how much they appreciate that they were able to see him so recently. Some of the presentations in the special session at the meeting contain biographical information and personal recollections; these, along with many photos from the session and the party, can be viewed at the Phonetics Lab’s birthday page.

Many of Peter’s colleagues put together a Happy Birthday web page, consisting of utterances of “Happy Birthday Peter Ladefoged” as examined under a variety of modern experimental techniques.  The page was assembled by Dani Byrd and Shri Narayanan of USC and can be found here.

Sandy Disner:  Peter Ladefoged and forensic phonetics

The brilliance of Peter Ladefoged’s accomplishments in the fields of laboratory phonetics, linguistic theory and fieldwork, not to mention his widely-read books and his acclaimed teaching methods and even his adventures on the set of “My Fair Lady”, have tended to outshine his important contributions to the field of forensic phonetics. But the latter touches the lives of all who stand accused, or might someday stand accused, of a crime in which some crucial piece of evidence is a voice. Alas, such people probably outnumber the linguists whose lives are touched by all of Peter’s other endeavors.

Back in the days, decades ago, when prosecution witnesses would earnestly inform juries that they could identify a recorded voice with 99.6% accuracy, Peter expressed skepticism. His clear-eyed evaluation of the methodology employed and the realities of forensic data (noisy body wires, slow tape recorders, the witness’ set of expectations) was considered by numerous appellate courts around the country, and was cited in the  reconsideration of the admissibility of such evidence in a number of jurisdictions.

Peter designed several ingenious tests of the accuracy of speaker recognition, including a multi-level study of familiar voices, with himself as subject and his beloved Jenny as investigator. He was honest enough to note that it took more than one sentence for him to recognize the voice of his own mother (a not-uncommon anomaly; do YOU always recognize telephone voices instantly?) and this admission was tossed back in his face by gleeful opposing counsel for years thereafter.

But perhaps the most important, and certainly the most elegant, of Peter’s forensic studies was a two-page article in Language and Speech. It reported that some of his own graduate students, all trained phoneticians and thoughtful subjects, were misled by their expectations in a speaker-identification task. Peter had inserted an unfamiliar African-American voice in a long string of familiar voices from the UCLA Phonetics Lab group. Five of the seven phonetician-subjects mistakenly identified it as that of an African-American colleague of theirs, which would have completed the string of familiar voices. The forensic implications of such a mistake, and the knowledge that even trained phoneticians could be misled by expectations, were stunning.

My own favorite anecdote about Peter’s forensic work took place when he and I played competing “experts” in the Trial Practice class at UCLA Law School. He graciously offered to bring his laptop to the “trial” and share it with me, so that I would only have to carry a floppy. What he didn’t tell me was that his laptop didn’t have a floppy drive. So in front of the mock “jury” I was left with no exhibits. (An obliging student was able to photocopy my hardcopies, thank goodness.) Peter’s sage advice to me afterwards was that I should never take anything for granted, particularly when it comes from opposing counsel. He referred to this as the time he “sandbagged Sandy”, but in fact the “jury” found for my side in that mock trial, most likely out of sympathy for my plight.

A 1997 picture of Peter Ladefoged with John Wells.  Thanks for John Wells for the image.

from Diana van Lancker Sidtis:

As a long term member of the UCLA Phonetics Laboratory in predoctoral as well as postdoctoral years, I view Peter Ladefoged as my primary mentor, providing a strong and constant example for the fine arts of research, scholarship, and teaching. I adopted many of his sayings and still use them (I’ve been teased about this). I have tried to imitate as many as possible of his virtues. I could not begin to account for all that I assimilated from the privileged time with Peter as mentor. I consider my relationship with Peter as the most fortunate and influential fact in my academic upbringing. This year our department at New York University “took over” (from another department), for the first time, the introductory phonetics course, required for undergraduates, and I volunteered to teach it. The Fifth Edition of A Course of Phonetics had just arrived, with CD and new teachings about phonetics. And so I continue to learn from Peter Ladefoged. To acknowledge the inaugural semester of the phonetics course, we made a class picture to give to Peter at the ASA special session and party in October, 2005. My appreciation for Peter’s brilliance, gratitude for his patience and kindness, and enjoyment of his many-faceted personality are all unbounded. I imagine him now scrutinizing the lip movements of the angels, and listening closely to their sounds.

from Dan Everett:

I have just learned this morning, as many of you will have already have learned, that Peter Ladefoged has died, at the age of 80. Only a few weeks ago he had sent me detailed and extremely useful comments on some recent work of mine.

Peter was one of my best friends. Indirectly, he played a part in my decision to become a linguist. I saw the film ‘My Fair Lady’ in Hollywood, when I was 11 years old and decided to become a linguist, whatever that was. Years later, I learned that Peter was the consultant on that film. He went with me to the Wari’, the Piraha, the Oro Win (a language with only 3 surviving speakers), and the Banawa. We wrote a series of articles together.

I met him for the first time at a Linguistic Society of America meeting (in New Orleans). He listened to a talk of mine and came up afterwards to discuss going to Brazil with me. The first thing he said was ‘You talked too fast and made it nearly impossible for anyone to follow what you were saying.’ Later, when Peter and I were presenting two papers at the Linguistic Society of America meetings in San Diego, Peter insisted that we go to his room and practice our presentation. So we each read our bits to our audience, Jenny Ladefoged, in Peter’s room and she timed us. I was so impressed how seriously Peter took his work and how important it was to him to express the results clearly, without rushing. Publications and presentations were not occasions to burnish one’s ego, but to do science and to communicate research effectively.

One morning in the Piraha village, Peter went down to the piranha-infested, anaconda, sting-ray, and alligator-teeming Maici river to brush his teeth. My wife, Keren, told him to be careful not to fall in (he was almost 70 then). His response was to dive in the river, in his pajamas and tennis shoes, swim to the other side (about 75 yards, fast moving water), then swim back. He emerged from the water and said, ‘You do not need to worry about me’.

Peter never complained and never bragged. He was motivated by a desire to understand language and to teach others. We were writing a paper together on Banawa and I used the phrase ‘tautomorphemic syllables’. Peter refused to allow such a monstrosity of a phrase in our paper. He pressured me to change it to ‘syllables in the same morpheme’. ‘Use plain English, Dan’ he urged me.

When measuring nasal airflow, in order to convince the Pirahas to allow me to insert tubes up their noses, Peter put the tube in his nose and pulled it out of his mouth. ‘See’, he said, ‘there is nothing to it’, which I dutifully translated, though both the Piraha and I were a bit queasy after the demonstration.

Peter was never a prima donna. Whenever he ate at my home or we ate together at someone else’s home, he insisted on washing the dishes. He was my wife’s MA supervisor (one of his last graduate students) and insisted that she spend 3 weeks with him and Jenny at their apartment in Santa Monica, during which time he and Jenny were gracious and generous hosts.

Among the Piraha we talked about Peter’s brother, Thegn, who was killed in WWII. Peter rarely opened up about personal things, though he did tell me how once his father, who owned a dairy import business, had told him to go dry off a large amount of butter that had just arrived. While drying and storing the butter, Peter realized that he wanted to do something else besides import dairy products. So, because he was interested in the form (more than the content) of poetry, he followed a friend’s advice and went to study phonetics with David Abercrombie in Edinburgh.

This is a historical and very sad day for the entire field of linguistics. One of the greatest linguists to have ever lived, an exemplary human being, a dear friend to many of us, has died. I am just saddened to the core by this news, as many of you will be. But Peter lived a wonderful life, revered and admired for his accomplishments over six decades, active until the very end. Always the example to us.

From Sarah Dart:

Many of us have spoken of Peter’s kindness, generosity and humor. In addition, he most nearly exemplified to me what a mentor is supposed to be. In “mentoring” (now something of a buzz-word on college campuses and rarely actually practiced in any valuable way), he has set the bar impossibly high for the rest of us. Once you were his student, he was your mentor for life. In my second year teaching at Macalester College our department was up for an external review. Not only did Peter volunteer to be one of the reviewers, but he also offered to give a talk while he was there. When I picked him up from the airport, I thought he looked rather tired for someone who had only just come from California, a time zone two hours earlier than Minnesota. It turns out that he was actually flying in from England, where Jenny’s mother had just died. In spite of it all, he was concerned to keep his word to serve as a reviewer, even though we would have all understood if he was unable to come.

He began his talk to my students and colleagues the next day by making a joke about my status as his last PhD student– as soon as he was finished with me, he felt it was time to retire! (leaving it ambiguous as to what this indicated about me)

He was always there if I needed him, but I just can’t feel as if he’s gone even now. He was right there in my class this Friday as I was teaching the Phonetics unit in Intro to Linguistics, and has been hovering around in my lab checking if the equipment is set up correctly for the Experimental Phonetics class. Peter has always been and will always be a part of my teaching– he exemplifies for me so much of what a good teacher should be. He somehow managed to make each of us feel that when he was talking to us, we were the most important thing on his mind. He truly seemed to care about what each one of us was doing and was very concerned that we do it well– no half measures would do. And it was not all positive feedback, as we all can attest. I remember being completely crushed when I said something (I’ve blocked out what it was) and he responded with a carefully articulated and inflected “quite” that somehow managed to destroy my theory more thoroughly than if we had argued over it for hours.

But he remained humble. I remember another time when I had driven him up from Southern California to Berkeley for the ICPhS in 1999. I was supposed to drop him off at some building on campus where he had a meeting, but he still had his luggage and a (very heavy and cumbersome) LCD projector and I didn’t want him to have to walk very far with it all. As we got closer and closer to the building, it became more and more obvious that cars were not supposed to be going where we were going… I kept on driving anyway along the walkways, feeling that if I had Peter in the car I could do anything. He looked at me and said, “You’re very brave, I would never dare drive up this far!” His humility never allowed him to think that he deserved any special attention from anyone.

One of my favorite memories is of the joy on his face when I finished explaining to him what I wanted to research for my dissertation. “A palatography dissertation!” he said, beaming, “Wonderful!” and proceeded with enthusiasm to help me concoct the recipe for “Sarah’s salad dressing,” a tempting mixture of olive oil and charcoal powder to be painted on speakers’ articulators.

I can still hear that wonderful deep voice with the stunning formants. Although I don’t make it a habit to show students my vocal folds, I never fail to sing Frère Jacques backwards at the end of the chapter on suprasegmentals. Thank you, Peter.

Sound file:  “Thank you, Peter” backwards

Sound file:  “Thank you, Peter” backwards, backwards

from John Cowan:

I never knew him personally, nor have I studied linguistics, but I read several of his books with much interest, profit, and enjoyment.  It was very clear even from them that he had a wonderful sense of humor, so I pass on this one-liner I heard on the Web:

“A Course In Phonetics teaches you everything about the subject — except how to pronounce ‘Ladefoged’.”

From former undergraduate and research assistant Neil Ticktin:


I’ve just learned this evening about Peter. It’s been years since I’ve seen you two, but strangely enough, I had been talking about Peter earlier this week someone … and even though it’s been nearly 20 years, that isn’t uncommon.

I fell into Linguistics quite by accident. In fact, when I realized that I really needed to pick a direction, I pulled out the UCLA catalog and started to cross out all the majors that didn’t interest me. In the end, it was Linguistics and Computer Science that was left.

Like many who knew him, I have a very, very, very clear memory of Peter attempting to convince the class that sticking a tube up his nose to measure nasal airflow was “no big deal” … I don’t think anyone was buying it when they could see how much is eyes were watering up. It wasn’t a big deal to Peter, but to the rest of us … well, we all thought he was nuts for sure!!

Peter allowed me to work in the lab taking his theories and algorithms, and translating them into computer programs. We spent quite a bit of time together, time I will always cherish. I remember sitting in his office, with piles of books and papers everywhere, and he’d be sitting there thinking of how to explain a theory to me, or I’d be explaining computer stuff to him. He’d be scratching his forehead with just his middle finger … at first I thought he was making a gesture, but no … he was just thinking. 🙂 It always brought a smile to my face … because I don’t think he ever realized what he was doing.

I had a really tough time my first year or two at UCLA, but as I entered my senior year, Peter gave me a great taste of teaching others. After we had done a bunch of work, translating theories into computer programs, Peter allowed me to help teach in some of his graduate classes, or more accurately, explain what we’d done. It was such an amazing feeling (especially since I hadn’t even earned my Bachelor’s degree) and is part of who I am today.

When it came time for me to graduate and go onto graduate school for my MBA, Peter wrote a recommendation, but he couldn’t help ribbing me along the way. I believe the comment was “Neil needs to learn that his brain may out run his mouth.” or something to that effect. I think he was entertained.

Peter always spoke his mind, with that deep voice that was sooo commanding, yet comforting. And, when I graduated, he gave me an “English Reader”, now over 100 years old. He inscribed it, and I told him that I didn’t understand the significance … he told me “keep reading, you’ll get it someday.”

But my fondest memory of Peter was at graduation time. We threw a huge  party at my folks house (this is nearly 20 years ago now). Peter came. At one point, there was a plan to throw me in the swimming pool … and, as several of my friends were trying to corner me, my dad came up from behind and ended up pushing me in. Peter saw this, and decided that “just wasn’t fair.” As I was getting out of the pool, he PUSHED MY DAD IN in retaliation! To this day, my dad still refers to Peter as the “swimming instructor.”

I’m very glad that Peter was able to be active to the end. He made my life better, and taught me more than just Linguistics. He gave me a place to channel my energies and grow when I had been struggling before that. He made my experience at UCLA one that I will always remember.

My heart goes to you and your family, and Peter’s much larger circle of friends and co-workers. May we all leave such a trail of love, and fond memories. It is an honor to have been his student, and his friend.

Best regards,
Neil Ticktin
Class of ’87

From Peter Austin:

I first met Peter Ladefoged when I arrived at UCLA from Australia as a lost and confused Harkness post-doctoral fellow in January 1979. The erstwhile sponsor for my fellowship in the Linguistics Department had disappeared on sabbatical leave without telling me beforehand, but Peter as Chair of the Department took me in hand, introduced me to faculty and students, got me a workspace and generally looked out for me. He introduced me to the Phonetics Laboratory staff, including Ian Maddieson and Mona Lindau-Webb (who had been at Monash University in Melbourne and hence knew something of Australians), with whom I was able to share my interests in fieldwork and language documentation. My year at UCLA thus became one that I remember with great fondness, due in no small part to Peter’s kindness and interest.

In subsequent years I was able to visit UCLA a few times and to catch up with Peter and talk about wierd and wonderful sounds. Naturally, we used his textbooks in classes at La Trobe and Melbourne Universities where I taught, together with the then revolutionary Hypercard stacks and their sound recordings.

In late 2002 I moved to the United Kingdom to help establish the Endangered Languages Academic Programme and was able to invite Peter to present the second annual public lecture for the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project at the School of Oriental and African Studies in February 2004. It was a multi-media tour de force entitled “The Disappearing Sounds of the World’s Languages” — Peter generously agreed to work with us on publishing it as a CD-ROM that includes an interactive presentation of his lecture, soundtrack, transcription, graphics and searchable index (see In typically generous fashion Peter offered to donate the proceeds from sales of the CD-ROM to our scholarship fund for third-world students.

All of us at SOAS will miss him tremendously.

Stephen Greenberg, posting to the “AUDITORY” email list:

It is with deep sadness that I report the passing away of Peter Ladefoged earlier this week. Peter was one of the true giants of phonetics who made countless contributions to understanding how speech is perceived and produced.

During the early part of his career, in the 1950s, Peter worked (with Donald Broadbent) on dichotic fusion of speech and pitch, as well as the influence of acoustic context on vowel categorization. Both of these studies were decades ahead of their time.

In the 1960s, he began what turned out to be his life’s work on the phonetics of the world’s languages. Peter personally recorded acoustic and physiological data from speakers of dozens (if not hundreds) of different languages around the world. He was particularly concerned about documenting the phonetic properties of endangered languages (of which there are thousands). In fact, he was on his way home from his most recent field trip (to India) when he became ill in London and died.

Speech production and articulatory models were Peter’s foci in the 1970s and 1980s, though he continued to work on the phonetics of the world’s languages throughout. In the 1990s he collaborated with Ian Maddieson on The Sounds of the World’s Languages. Peter also made many seminal contributions to the phonetic and phonological theory.

Peter was the author of (at least) nine 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

Those of you who’ve had the pleasure of meeting Peter know that he was an incredibly warm and witty person. He was also a truly caring teacher who had a tremendous impact on his students and on phonetics as a field.

Mark Seidenberg remembers a rejection letter:

When I was in graduate school (or maybe it was my post-doc year, but it was a long time ago when I was just starting out), I applied for a job in the UCLA department. Of course there was no reason for me to get a job in the department at that point and in due time I received the rejection form letter. However, Peter had written a note on it saying that he was sorry about the job but he greatly enjoyed my paper about ape “language” which had appeared in the journal Cognition (my first journal article). I was so utterly flattered that he had merely read the paper let alone liked it. I have received other rejection letters since then but never one that made me feel quite so good about it.

from Eric Bakovic:

My first distinct memory of Peter Ladefoged was from my first linguistics course at UCSC in 1989, Phonetics. Bill Shipley was the professor, and we were using A Course in Phonetics (2nd ed., 1982) as a reference text. The Shipley-Ladefoged one-two punch was what made me decide that I needed to keep doing linguistics. I’ve relied on all of Peter’s textbooks (and so many of his other writings and phonetics resources) many times and in many ways since that first exposure to them — an intellectual debt that I could never even hope to repay.

Some of my recent work led me to conduct a phonetics experiment using static palatography. The only thing that kept me from feeling completely overwhelmed by this project was having Peter’s writings on the subject to consult, as well as the research of his students and of others at the UCLA Phonetics Lab. It was all very difficult work that I was very unsure about, having been trained as a theoretical phonologist, but reading Peter’s work makes me appreciate its complexity and importance while at the same time making me feel more confident about being able to do it myself.

Just to make extra sure I was on the right track, though, I asked Peter early on if he would mind meeting with me to talk about the project. I’d seen Peter at conferences and such before, but this was my first direct interaction with him. I wasn’t surprised to find him to be incredibly helpful and just plain nice. (Peter’s first suggestion was that since he lived between San Diego and LA that I was welcome to stop by his home, which would be closer to me than UCLA. I was going to UCLA on a day he’d be there anyway, so we met in his office.) Peter was full of advice and encouragement, and expressed genuine interested in my work. I wish I could show him how far the project has come since that time, thanks to him.

In short, I feel as though Peter has been my close advisor in what I hope will be my first (small) contribution to phonetics. In fact, Peter’s played that role in my mind since 1989.

From Marco Baroni:

Just a short anecdote showing Peter’s amazing passion and generosity… In June 2005, I sent him an email asking for advice about measuring word-final voiceless consonants. Not only he sent me a very prompt and informative reply, but he offered to do the actual measurements for me! (“If you wanted to send me half a dozen .wav files in my happy retirement I could check then for you.”)

From Daniel Kempler:

Peter wrote the letter welcoming me to the UCLA Linguistics Department for graduate study in 1978. His letter said something about the fact that many of Ph.D.s in Linguistics become gardeners and nursery school teachers because there are so few jobs in the field. I knew I’d made the right decision. My first opportunity to be a teaching assistant at UCLA was for him in Introductory Phonetics. The luck! My interest in voice started by seeing Peter’s vocal folds in a dental mirror. That inspired me, and it now inspires my students. To this day, I show my vocal folds in class. It never fails. I also remember, with joy, how honored and tickled I was by Peter’s response to my request that he serve on my doctoral committee – simply: “delighted.” I haven’t seen Peter and Jenny in a few years, but I continue to show my vocal cords in class. I will always remember Peter with gratitude and affection. And to Jenny, all my love.

From Michal Temkin Martinez:

[This is] a photo of Peter taken during a seminar he held on “old school” palatography at USC. He is holding up two molds of his palate (one taken many years ago – which I believed served as an ashtray in My Fair Lady, and the other taken more recently – showing fewer teeth – which he did not fail to mention laughing…).

Michal adds:

Like many others in the field, I was first acquainted with Peter visually through the picture of him that served as background for the illustration of the vocal tract in A Course in Phonetics, and auditorily through his recordings of vowels and consonants. Having a few professors who had graduated from UCLA, I had been told many stories praising Peter and his unique teaching and research techniques. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t think highly of him.

I knew it would be an amazing experience to have Peter as an instructor, so when the opportunity came to take a phonetics seminar taught by him at USC (he was adjunct professor there), I jumped at the chance! I enjoyed Peter’s class tremendously – besides his wealth of knowledge, his great teaching abilities and his enthusiasm for field work, I found Peter to be a humble, compassionate human being with a thirst for knowledge that was enviable. He also put us “young folks” to shame with his incredible multimedia skills!

Many anecdotes have been shared about Peter’s voice, but I have another one to add to the collection… At the last ASA Meeting, I presented a poster. My session was one of the earlier ones, before the special session in Peter’s honor. Peter came to walk through the posters, and since my poster was in the row closest to the door, we made eye-contact immediately as he walked in. Peter took no time at all to get to my poster (which was at the very end of the row) and gave me a huge hug. He then went on to ask me how things were going and how a paper I had written for his seminar was coming along before he went on to visit with others there. A few moments after he left, two of the other student presenters who were across from me came to me and said – “That’s Peter Ladefoged, isn’t it? We can recognize that voice anywhere…”.

Peter served as a great model for all, being an innovative researcher (we had often joked about his early research techniques saying that due to his exposure to radiation, Peter probably glowed in the dark!), an incredible teacher, a family man (he would often go to watch his granddaughter’s softball games after our seminar), and a great human being. I am extremely grateful to have known Peter. My only regret is that I hadn’t met him sooner – though I imagine that the immense pain I feel due to his loss would have only been much worst had that been the case.

From Stephen Greenberg:

Peter Ladefoged – Some Personal Recollections

I spent the years 1975 through 1980 as a graduate student in Linguistics and as a member of the Phonetics Laboratory. Although I was a peripheral member of the lab (my primary base was the Brain Research Institute at the other end of campus), I did get to know Peter well during my stay (and afterwards). Below are some recollections of that time (when the lab was blessed with the likes of Cathe Browman, Sandy Disner, Vicki Fromkin, Louis Goldstein, Richard Harshman, Jean-Marie Hombert, Hector Javkin, Mona Lindau, Wendy Linker, Ian Maddieson, Willie Martin, George Papçun, Lloyd Rice, Diana van Lancker, Ann Wingate, Andreas Wittenstein, Jim Wright and Eric Zee).

How did I wind up in the UCLA Phonetics Lab?

An East Coast colleague said in no uncertain terms that it would be the ruin of me (or anyone else) to join Peter’s group. “Why, do you know they actually have nude swimming parties!!!, Can you imagine!” I couldn’t, so off I went to see for myself.

Why I believe Peter was a truly wise person

I was the student representative on a faculty search committee. Another student challenged my ability to be objective, stating in Peter’s presence that I had a conflict of interest. Peter turned first to this student and then to me and said “I’m sure Steve will be entirely objective. There’s no need for concern. Am I not right?” I assured him he was, and that was the end of the matter.

Peter’s (brutal) honesty

My mother is perhaps the most critical (and shrewdest) judge of character I know. Directly after meeting Peter during a visit in the 1970s, she said to me “I like Peter a lot. He really cares about you.” My mother is not the demonstrative type, so I was really surprised by her reaction (she rarely says anything like this about anyone). Peter earned my mother’s respect by his honesty and frankness. He told her in my presence, “We all think very highly of Steve; if only he would complete what he begins!” I, of course, turned beet red and felt ashamed. But my mother (and Peter) knew better. He was only trying to help me do better, and he felt the best way of doing so was by being brutally honest.

I was working in the lab one day when I overheard Peter talking with a student down the hall about who should serve as the next semester’s teaching assistant for his phonetics course. My name came up. Peter immediately quashed the prospect. A few minutes later he came through the room where I was working and realized I had overheard. He put his arm around my shoulder, chuckling in his inimitable way,

“Steve, you have many strengths, but teaching isn’t one of them! I hope you understand.” I did (and felt relieved, as I had never taken Peter’s course – what was I going to do as his T.A?).

Peter’s wit

At a UCLA Linguistics colloquium in the late 1990s, Peter introduced me as follows:

“I would like to introduce Steve Greenberg, who I had great pleasure in being supervised in chairing his dissertation.”

This is not a misprint. Peter meant every word, and immediately began to chuckle, adding, “Am I not right?” He was.

Peter’s utter lack of pretension

Peter was invited (along with Vicki Fromkin, Ken Stevens, Gunnar Fant, Jim Flanagan, and several other pre-eminent figures) to give a presentation at a special session of the Acoustical Society of America meeting (Seattle, June, 1998). This was supposed to be a serious session in which truly distinguished elder statesmen (and stateswomen) discussed their early days in research and the lessons learned. When his turn came, Peter got up (I believe in his trademark, tie-dye t-shirt) and began joking about this “old geezer” session – hardly a serious remark during his entire (utterly charming) presentation. Quickly, everyone else at the meeting began referring to the session as “old geezer.” Peter was often a trendsetter, even when not really trying.

Peter’s sangfroid under pressure

Peter had submitted an abstract to a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. Several weeks after sending it in, he realized that the data would turn out rather differently than anticipated. Most authors in this circumstance would have withdrawn the abstract, but not Peter. He calmly called the printer and asked if it were possible to change the abstract ever so slightly? If so, could the printer please insert the word “not” before a certain phrase?

Peter’s secret to success

When it came Peter’s turn to chair the Linguistics Department (in the late 1970s), the office staff was initially apprehensive. Why? Well, Peter came across as sooooo laid back and relaxed that Anna and Vimal were certain (yes, absolutely certain) that either the Department would fall apart or they would wind up working triple time. A little bit of context is in order – Vicki Fromkin had just finished her term as Department Chair. As anyone who ever met Vicki can attest, she was the anti-Peter – “frenetic” is perhaps too mild a way to describe her mode of action. Anna and Vimal had had their hands full working with Vicki, who was a true tsunami of energy. What was going to happen now that the Chairmanship passed to a fellow who insisted on wearing tie-dye t-shirts, jeans and sandals as formal attire?

Within a few weeks, Anna and Vimal were all smiles. Why? Peter’s style was quite different than Vicki’s. Vicki loved to meet all sorts of people around campus and engage in all sorts of worthy causes (she went on to become UCLA’s Vice Chancellor). Peter focused on his responsibilities as Chairman. He would do what he was supposed to do, and on time. He was not interested in power lunches or doing anything that wasn’t directly related to his administrative role, which he performed extremely well. Moreover, he always seemed to have time left over to talk with students or anyone else. And he still came across as relaxed, as if he had all the time in the world.

When it came time for Peter to step down as Chairman, one could see tears of regret in the eyes of Anna and Vimal.

The secret to Peter’s productivity

One of my fellow students once called Peter “lazy” during a casual conversation. Asked to elaborate, this person said “Well, he doesn’t come into the lab until 9 and he leaves promptly at 5. And he’s never here on weekends!”

What this student meant (I suspect) was that Peter didn’t hang out in the lab until the wee hours like the rest of us. Well, why should he have? He had a family and a life!

However, this didn’t stop him from becoming perhaps the most productive phonetician ever – 10 (count ’em, 10) books, one of which has sold a couple of hundred thousand copies (A Course in Phonetics, now in its 5th edition).

Well, I think I know the secret of Peter’s phenomenal productivity (or at least I think I do, for with Peter one never knew for sure). He once told me that he wrote 500 words every day (and he meant every day), rain or shine. He rarely strove to write more than 500 words a day (occasionally he did), but he made darn sure that he never wrote less than 500 words. Steady, but sure – a true Tortoise.

(In all fairness, I did see Peter working in the lab on weekends and evenings on occasion. When I stayed with Peter and Jenny in recent years, the two of them would often be working until the wee hours of the night – so much for Peter’s laziness!)

From George Allen

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The UCLA Phonetics Laboratory was my first academic position, in 1967. I immediately benefitted from Peter’s encouragement, support, and tutelage in the many areas I was lacking. Through the years I came to appreciate his and Jenny’s service to both the academy and to the people of the world through their unflagging efforts to learn, to teach, and always to do the right thing. Such goodness is rare and its combination with their excellence is extraordinary.

Although we are all distressed at Peter’s passing, I cannot but also feel great satisfaction in a life so well and happily lived.

From Jody Kreiman:

You can add my name to the list of people who owe profound debts of gratitude to Peter Ladefoged. I first met Peter when I arrived in Los Angeles in the early 1980s as a refugee graduate student from the University of Chicago. My thesis advisor had left academia and was not immediately replaced, leaving me adrift without a mentor. I came to the phonetics lab to visit for a quarter, and 24 years later I’m still at UCLA. Peter took me in, gave me an office and run of the facilities, supervised my thesis without credit, and never once asked me when I was going back to Chicago (although a few months after I finally finished my dissertation he did say, “Dear, don’t you think it’s time you looked for a job?”). I never paid tuition or did anything dramatic like enrolling at UCLA—it was just generous Peter extending hospitality to someone who might someday grow up to be a phonetician.  It still seems extraordinary to me that he saw merit in the naïve, unformed student who wandered in his door, but somehow he did, and that made all the difference to me. Without his kindness I would have fallen into the void, and without his backing I would never have been able to convince Chicago that voice quality was part of phonetics. I could not have finished my degree without him.

From Peri Bhaskararao

The last fieldwork.  Peter with Peri Bhaskararao and a group of native speaker consultants assisting them in their research on Toda.  Photo taken at Kiawiarh Village on January 22, 2006.

(original copy in full size)

“Peter explaining the use of air-flow mask to a couple of our Toda consultants”

(original copy in full size)

From Katherine Morton and Mark Tatham:

We were lucky enough to meet while spending the golden year of 1966 in Peter’s UCLA lab. Our careers have been built on his influence, enthusiasm and encouragement – as have those of so many others. The personal and professional debt is unquantifiable for all of us. But because it was so strong the influence and presence will live on. ‘Bye Peter.

From Linnea Lagerquist:

Big men, it is said, cast big shadows. Peter Ladefoged was undeniably a big man, in physique and even more in reputation. Someone of such eminence could have insisted on deference and distance, but I can tell you that that was no more Peter’s way with undergraduates and non-phoneticians than it was with his professional peers. I could not have hoped for a more welcoming start in grad school at UCLA than his undergraduate introductions to phonetics and to experimental phonetics. And there could be no better demonstration for a teaching assistant of the pedagogical value of delight than Peter’s droll, rich, and kindly lectures on Introduction to Language. As with Chaucer’s Clerke, “gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.”

Though I was not a phonetician at UCLA, in a small way I now teach phonetics, in the course of helping candidates for elementary credentials pass subject-matter and reading-instruction examinations. The relationship between speech sounds and the writing system, the anecdotes, even the occasional demonstration of a click – all this draws directly on what I learned in Peter’s classes. I can only hope that my teaching also reflects some measure of Peter’s infectious joy.

A big man casting a big shadow? Say rather that Peter Ladefoged was so big a man that he cast light, and through his colleagues and all his students he will continue to do so.

Jenny, thank you for sharing him with us.

From Arthur Abramson:

Here in Thailand for the time being, I mourn the loss of Peter Ladefoged, a towering figure in our field. Not only were we age mates and transcontinental colleagues in the exciting discipline of experimental phonetics, but also cooperative toilers, years ago, in the governance of the Linguistic Society of America and, until now, the Permanent Council for the Organization of International Congresses of Phonetic Sciences. The cordial relations between him and me have always given me much pleasure.

Peter will be sorely missed by so many of us.

Arthur S. Abramson
Haskins Laboratories and (Emeritus) the University of Connecticut

From Takehiko MAKINO:

It was a sad and sudden news, which arrived shortly after I had happend to talk at LSA annual meeting about Peter’s whereabouts with Frances Ingemann, who taught me much of my phonetics with his book A Course in Phonetics, 2nd edition when I spent a year at the University of Kansas.

My first personal contact with Peter was when I began translating his A Course, 3rd edition into Japanese for publication in early 1997. On March 10, I sent him a question about Figure 1.8 of the book. Peter quickly replied with “Hi Makinosan,” and that was the beginning of our numerous exchanges online of an effort to make the translation as good and precise as possible. When I apologized for my fussiness, he replied, “Please be as ‘fussy’ as you can. This is very educational for me. Thank you very much.” I felt very much obliged indeed. I could not possibly “educate” the leading phonetician of the world!

I am rather slow in doing things, so it took a whole two years just to finish the manuscript. At the end of the translation work, I thought of visiting him at his office at UCLA to settle everthing left. To my surprise, he offered to have me stay in his own house, which I had no reason not to accept. I will not forget his quickness to run to his front door to meet me and warmness of his handshaking when I arrived after hopelessly lost on my way from LAX. I stayed two nights (from January 4 to 6, 1999) with him and Jenny, That was some of my happiest nights ever. While I was there, he even asked me to translate his Vowels and Consonants, which was just about to be published. I could not have been able to do it, but hope to do in future. I liked the whole idea of introducing the acoustics first in that book so much that I imitated it when I wrote a serial introduction to phonetics in a Japanese magazine Gekkan Gengo [Language Monthly] in 2004.

The Japanese edition of A Course in Phonetics was published in November 1999 (again it was me who was slow). In the preface to the 4th edition, which was published in the summer of 2000, Peter acknowledged me by writing “Takehiko Makino made numerous astute observations while translating the third edition into Japanese.” I was grateful, except that it appeared so quick that the Japanese version was not the latest edition only half a year or so after its publication! I am now thinking of persuading my publisher to translate the 5th edition, which he rightly claims to be “the first complete revision of this book since its original publication in 1975.” He was always in motion. I have been too slow to follow him.

His trust in me was sometimes all too great for me. He appointed me as the IPA representative proofreader of the Japanese edition of the Handbook of the IPA, which was published in 2003. I was just astounded. I did my best, but I am not sure if my effort and the result live up to his trust.

My last encounter with Peter was in a rather unexpected place. In Alan S. Kaye’s article “Gemination in English.” in English Today vol. 21 no.2 (April 2005): 43-55, I just happened to find a passage “gray tomb and great tomb (examples from Takekiko [sic] Makino furnished by Ladefoged)”(p.45). That was a pair I just casually had posted to phonet (Teaching of phonetics mailing list) a little more than a year before.

Last summer I published a coursebook in English phonetics, written in Japanise. I am now trying to make an English version of the book, partly because I wanted to show Peter what I was doing apart from translation. Again I was too slow.

Attached is the only picture with Peter and me together, taken when I was about to leave his house. Unfortunately, I did not have a digital camera (well they were not affordable then, anyway), so we did not notice that the shade from trees almost hid our faces.

From Melissa Epstein:

It’s so hard to disentangle my memories of Peter Ladefoged from my memories of UCLA and the Phonetics Lab. I cannot imagine the lab without him – or future students “growing up” at UCLA without his personal influence.

One of the greatest gifts Peter gave to his students was treating us as colleagues – whether we had been in the field for years and years or were just starting out. One of my favorite memories of Peter is from my visit to UCLA as a prospective grad student. I remember being a little frightened to meet the author of my textbooks – and he was just so big and he had this amazing voice. But the first thing he said to me was, “Please, call me Peter.”

And now that I’ve spent my last few years in the strictly hierarchical worlds of dental and medical schools, I’ve grown to appreciate how generous Peter was with those words.

May his memory be for a blessing.


From Olle Engstrand and Björn Lindblom:

In December 2005, Peter Ladefoged came to the Department of Linguistics, Stockholm University, to serve as external examiner for a PhD thesis in phonetics (Christine Ericsdotter, “Articulatory-acoustic relationships in Swedish vowel sounds”). He also gave a public lecture on endangered languages and took part of a Round Table discussion organized around themes that he has been particularly interested in. The Round Table was arranged in his honour on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

As usual, Peter was active, enthusiastic and full of life. Just a few weeks later, we were shocked by the news that he had passed away. We mourn and miss him deeply, but we are grateful for having had him among us that last time.

On behalf of the Phonetics group at Stockholm University, Olle Engstrand and Björn Lindblom

From Marie Huffman:

Like Sarah Dart, I have memories to offer of Peter from a student’s perspective.

First, like Sarah, I feel Peter is with me a lot, as I teach courses and as I teach students how to write papers. I use his books, I see his face in those mid-saggitals, I think of the fieldwork with every table in “A Course”. Then there are the online language examples, which Peter had available in hypercard (which actually worked better than what technology currently offers us) ages before almost anyone else was making phonetic data on languages electronically available.

So many times I have passed on pieces of advice that are directly Peter’s. Things such as choosing the figures first, before writing up your data analysis. Very practical advice. After all, the figures represent the main point and if you don’t have the data for the figures, you aren’t done collecting the data yet! Of course, he also said you should be able to write the whole paper except the results (and maybe parts of the conclusion) before you even start collecting data. This is a fine model to aspire to-such clarity in focus, questions and likely outcomes would be required to do this, though I believe Peter himself accomplished it more than once. One of the things Peter did as a teacher:, then, is offer concise and forceful advice, and set out clear standards for us to aim for. The other thing he did, with his confidence and humility, was teach by including us in the early stages of his thinking on a topic. Whether it was a paper or a grant proposal, Peter taught us by letting us read and critique written drafts during lab meetings. This is an example/standard I have not yet fully achieved!

Another thing Peter did as a teacher in the broadest sense, as everyone knows, is generate a lab environment that I believe was unparalleled in cooperation, openness, and dynamism. Lunch in the lab was the place things happened, from pow-wows on lab policy to heavy theoretical discussions about phonetics and phonology. Lab meetings also were constant sources of learning, whether it was work in progress by the many lab members, or presentations by his many scholar friends who would come for sabbaticals, or who were just passing through on their travels. Peter made things happen, with the humor and drive many have commented on.

I can’t resist reminding my fellow students of another aspect of UCLA Phonetics Lab student life. Many of Peter’s students surely remember his insistence that a letter of recommendation would not be believed if it didn’t contain both criticism and praise. I still remember the cold chill of anticipation I’d feel in realizing he’d be writing a letter for me, with something brutally honestly critical in it…..Many of us got jobs anyway, perhaps because the high standard of training people attributed to students of Peter (rightfully, for the teacher’s part, whether we students met the standard was, of course, variable) outweighed whatever negative thing he put in the letter!

Finally, I wanted to comment, as others, on Peter’s warmth, humor and accessibility. He was inclusive, caring and playful (with a devilish edge) with everyone. When I saw him after several years had passed between meetings, one of the first things he asked is “So, how’s your love life?”. Few other professors would care, or would dare, but with our personal lives, as with our professional lives, Peter did both.

I still can’t believe I must meet Peter now only in memory, but I feel honored to have that opportunity. I send my love to Jenny and the rest of the family as we remember Peter together.

From Bob Ladd:

All of us here in Edinburgh, where Peter got his academic start, are mourning his loss with the rest of his friends and colleagues and students around the world. It’s perhaps especially vivid for us, because his last formal teaching job was in Edinburgh, in the first semester of the current academic year. He was here for nearly three months and it’s hardly more than a few weeks ago that he left. A couple of vignettes from his stay here can only add to the long list of anecdotes illustrating his fundamental modesty and his commitment to his field.

The idea of teaching here was all his. He volunteered to come do a course as long as we could find money to cover his basic costs. Alice Turk eventually secured the funding and we officially created a course entitled “Describing the phonetic structure of languages”, and Peter came to teach it. Alice and Bert Remijsen also arranged for him to take over a small flat from a student who was completing her MSc just before the beginning of the new semester. The fact that it was at the top of four flights of a dark Edinburgh common stair and was furnished by a rental agency for students didn’t seem to bother Peter in the slightest – in fact, he liked the place because he could look out the window and see the first flat he had ever owned in Edinburgh, where he lived with Jenny when they were first married. (I believe he told us that that flat had cost 400 pounds when he bought it, which today would just about cover the cost of a return air ticket to Los Angeles.)

Bert and I picked Peter up at the airport the day he arrived in September, and virtually the first thing he did was to invite us and our families over for a meal the following Saturday. I couldn’t quite understand why he was so insistent on having us over immediately until we got there and he pulled out a bottle of champagne and announced that it was his 80th birthday. We duly declared the brownies I had brought for dessert to be his birthday cake and sang Happy Birthday to him when the time came.

Three days later he taught his first class.

The “real” students were outnumbered roughly 2-to-1 throughout the course, as many of us wanted to sit in and hear what he had to say. But he insisted on getting to know the undergraduates who were officially enrolled in the course, and met separately with them – usually in the department Common Room – on a number of occasions. His shared visitors’ office was right next to the Common Room and he always kept the door open when he was in. He generally waited there until 5 or 6 every evening so that Jenny could phone him at breakfast time in Los Angeles. One of the things they regularly did during those conversations was to compare notes on the weather, and he frequently reported on the temperature in LA when it was particularly cold and damp here.

During his stay here he also kept up a schedule that would have tired out some of the rest of us, including his trip back to the Minneapolis ASA meeting where his big public 80th birthday bash was held. He had planned to go to India “on his way home” at the end of his stay in Edinburgh, but postponed that trip till January. He cleared his rented flat a couple of days ahead of time and stayed with us on his last few nights in town. I drove him to the airport early on the last day of November and wished him a good trip. It’s hard to believe he won’t be back.

From Olivia Martinez:


The little contact I had with you and Peter changed my life forever. It was you Jenny, that taught me how to use a computer (those Macs we had in the phonetics lab about ten years ago), and you told me I could play solitaire so that I could learn how to use the mouse better! As an undergraduate, Peter taught me to work in the Phonetics Lab and do everything from transcribing to digitizing data.It was also through Peter that I obtained my first research grant (also as an undergraduate at UCLA). I remember I referred to all my professors as “Professors”, and Peter “corrected” me one day by telling me, “Why do you call Sun-Ah “Professor Jun”, just call her “Sun-Ah”, you call ME Peter!” He had not even noticed that I in fact did NOT call him Peter, but rather “Professor Ladefoged”, of course, he did become “Peter” to me from that day on.

If in those few moments we shared, he gave and taught me so much, I can only imagine what he did for those he mentored more closely and for longer periods. This is truly a great loss. My heart is out to you Jenny as is the gratitude I had never before expressed, for your time, patience and kindness toward me, also in those brief moments.

May God Bless,

Olivia V. Martinez (Mendez)

The Phonetics and French as Second Language Department of the Université de Provence (France), as well as the phoneticians of the Aix-en-Provence LPL research lab and Pr Emeritus Mario Rossi, express their sadness to the Linguistics Department and Phonetics lab at UCLA after Peter Ladefoged’s death. This is a great loss for all our comunity.

We all remember Peter’s warm and kind personality. We owe him so much in our field : phonetics. We will deeply miss him, though his scientific presence clearly remains. We shall continue to honour his memory through our teachings and papers.

Phoneticians of the Phonetics and FSL Department, Aix-en-Provence:

Albert Di Cristo
Pierre Durand
Yohann Meynadier
Noël Nguyen
Pascal Roméas
Mario Rossi

From Michel Jackson:

Peter always had a sense of fun, and was always willing to try something new. The picture shows Peter & our son Morgan (then 7) in our newly-completed treehouse, June 12, 2004.

By the way, the influence of phonetics continues to spread: Morgan complains frequently about having to learn English spelling in school, and has proposed eliminating “ck” in favor of “k”, using “c” over “ch”, eliminating “soft c” for “s”, and other simplifications.

When the LSA Summer Institute was at Ohio State in the 1990s, Peter & Jenny arrived with no umbrellas despite Central Ohio’s frequent summer thunderstorms. Lynne Davis & I supplied them with umbrellas but we’re not sure Peter used his, since he found thunderstorms exciting and stimulating after all those years in Southern California weather (not that British weather features thunderstorms frequently either.)

From Linda Shockey:

Phoneticians at the University of Reading share with the worldwide community a great sense of sorrow and loss and send our love and supportive thoughts to Jenny.

David Ward, Jane Setter and I agree that Peter will always be very much alive, appreciated, and respected in our minds and those of our students.

Peter had the endearing quality of treating everyone he knew as a friend and potential source of insight. Everyone’s opinion mattered, no matter how naive. He may not have actually remembered the name of everyone he met, but he managed to give the impression that he did.

Peter’s great humanity and humility are reflected in an incident which occurred several years ago: a professional society would not accept student members. Peter stood up at the general meeting and said that some of his graduate students were much better phoneticians than he would ever be and that the society in question would be incalculablydiminished by its refusal to accept them. Who else would have that much spontaneous warmth and presence of mind? We can follow in his footsteps, but can only aspire to be his equal.

From Keith Johnson:

I asked Peter to write a letter of recommendation for me two months after arriving at UCLA as a post-doc. He said that he didn’t know me well-enough to do it on his own so he had me sit next to him at the computer and help him. It was a relatively luke-warm letter, but completely fair – and a terrific introduction to writing together.

The day before a field trip I came to the lab and found Peter about to drill a hole in the side of one of Henry Tehrani’s flow/pressure boxes. Peter had decided to take a portable oscilloscope with him and wanted to add a plug on the box so he could look at the flow signal on the scope. With a whir and an “oops” the box was broken – resistors and capacitors shorn off the circuit board – and soon thereafter Henry called on a Sunday afternoon to fix the thing.

Once, sitting in his office surrounded by piles of papers and books, he gesticulated and knocked a laptop (Apple of course) onto the floor. Picking it up and seeing that it seemed no worse for wear he said, “Don’t tell Jenny”.

He tried to put a pen in his shirt pocket and discovered that the pocket was on the inside of the shirt. He pulled it up and off, turned it right-side out, and slid it back on. Pen safely in pocket, he said, “there”.

Hmm. I have a flood of memories. This is so sad. I’ll miss him very much. He was always so supportive of me, and always asked how my love life was going – “for Jenny, you see”.

From Bonny Sands:

The top 3 things on my “to do” list last week all involved Peter. I got #1 done on Monday, sent e-mail and didn’t hear back, which was odd, because Peter always writes back right away. Now, I haven’t the heart for #2 and #3, because even a week later, I still start crying when I think about him. My whole academic career has been shaped by one sentence from Peter: “How would you like to work on clicks?” He was an exemplary scholar, leading Khoisan linguist, and one of the best people I’ve ever known.

Some of my favorite memories of Peter come from the summer of 1991, when I was the luckiest of grad students and went with him and Ian Maddieson to East Africa for two months to record 4 endangered languages. Probably the most important thing I learned from Peter was how to stay calm when things didn’t go according to plan. A lot went wrong on our trip — Peter lost his wallet and passport (later recovered) in Kenya, half of our Sandawe tapes and notes were stolen in Tanzania, our airflow equipment failed to work with the brand new “portable” Apple, and the translator (me) came down with malaria.

Peter & Ian in Farkwa (Usandawe), Tanzania, at a Catholic Mission, 1991

But, there were the triumphs, too. I remember when a crowd of 20 or so Kenyans cheered for us after we’d managed to cross a lake that had formed across the road due to the rains. The water was so high it flooded the floor of the Land Rover as we crossed. As a kindness, Peter offered a lift to one of the motorists stranded by the lake. Not only did this man lead us to the Dahalo speakers we’d been searching for, but he got his 8 year old nephew to translate for Peter while Ian and I split off and recorded Ilwana speakers. Typical of his generosity, Peter created and printed out a certificate of merit for the boy. How we cheered when Peter first coaxed that printer into working, without electricity, and on the beach!

Part of what made Peter a wonderful mentor was that his first concern was what was best for you as a person, and not just as a linguist. He encouraged me to think about doing dissertation fieldwork in India, where, as a vegetarian I might be more comfortable than in Africa. If not India, then, how about Kipini, Kenya with the Dahalo, he reasoned, where I could swim in the Indian Ocean, eat fresh coconuts every day, and sleep in a hammock? But, I stubbornly ignored his advice and went back to Mang’ola, Tanzania where we had worked with the Hadzabe. Here, monkeys tried to steal our food and the Hadzabe would get distracted from the recording session because they wanted to go catch and eat the monkeys. We stayed in tents — tents that the monkeys pooped on. I remember Peter nonchalantly scraping the monkey poop off with a stick, as comfortable as he had been the night before in an expensive tourist hotel.

Elizabeti and child, Ian, Sagilo, Chaupe & Peter in Mang’ola, Tanzania, August 12, 1991.

Even a decade later, the Hadzabe were still asking me how Mzee Peter was doing, even though he was only with them for a week and a half. Peter charmed them and everyone else we met, no matter what their station in life. In Nairobi, The prostitutes in our dodgy hotel were particularly charmed by him and in order to avoid their attentions, he had me escort him through the hotel when searching for a phone to call Jenny or going to the bar for a Tusker. I had never thought of Peter as ever needing help before. In the Phonetics Lab, he was always the one helping us grad students. He was always generous with his time, and always kind and patient. It was a privilege to have been able to spend so much time with him and I miss him a lot.

From Olle Kjellin:

Like everybody else in the speech and linguistics community, I am mourning the loss of Peter Ladefoged. Although I was an extremely periferal person in his life, he encompassed me too in his famous sphere of scientific and personal generosity and kind sharing of his immense knowledge. He always replied to e-mails quickly and kindly, and he gave me one of the proudest moments of my life when I realized he had even remembered me in the acknowledgements of his Vowels and Consonants. So, it is obvious that no words on the greatness of his person, as in the tributes written by his closer friends and published on the web, can ever be exaggerated.

From the film My Fair Lady:  a familiar voice.  [Caution:  avi-format video file is 164 megabytes]

Thanks to Pat Keating and Janessa Jurian for digitizing the file.

From Pamela Price Klebaum:

When I was a doctoral student in Applied Linguistics, Nina Hyams asked Peter and me to give a guest lecture on forensic linguistics. Peter and I met to discuss our presentation. Since he was such an engaging and compelling speaker, I asked him if I could go first. “Following you would be like following Bob Hope,” I explained. “There is no following Bob Hope.” Always the gentleman, he replied, “Certainly.You speak first.” He brought his daughter, an attorney, to the presentation, and I was honored to be on the same stage with him. And I was also very glad that he followed me. He was, predictably, spectacular.

From Lynn Landweer:

I will never forget Peter Ladefoged. He kindly assisted me, now many years ago, when I was researching during my first MA programme. I was studying at Cal State Fullerton, but took a chance in spite of the fact I wasn’t a student as UCLA, to phone him because I hoped he would be able to give me the direction I needed. He did. He was very gracious and kind, giving of his time in order to help me. I’ll never forget that kindness. I hope that I will be as gracious to enquiring folk who cross my path in the future. I so hope he is enjoying the beginning of a blissful eternity.

Lynn Landweer

PhD Candidate
University of Essex
Colchester, England

From Pat Keating and Bruce Hayes:

A picture of Peter and Jenny at our wedding in 1989.  We named our son after Peter.

From Taehong Cho:

When I first met Peter, he was in his lovely office on the corner of the second floor at Campbell Hall. I greeted the most renowned phonetician with all my respect and awe, by saying “How do you do Professor Ladefoged? My name is Taehong Cho. ” Peter then asked me to say my name again, so that he could pronounce my name correctly. And he greeted me back, calling me “Mr. Taehong Cho “. I felt a bit uncomfortable hearing my name said with “Mr.” called by Peter Ladefoged, the father of phonetics that I had long dreamed of meeting. But because I was so nervous in front of him I couldn ‘t do anything about it. Peter was then quick to ask me on the spot if I would be interested in working on VOTs. Being nervous again, I said ‘yes ‘ without knowing the consequences. And he went on asking whether I would like to work for him on investigating variation of VOTs across many languages. Again, I just said I would love to, thinking to myself “Who would say ‘no’ to such an honorable offer from the father of phonetics? ” I was so pleased to be given such a great opportunity to work with him. (The VOT project turned into my first paper published with the most renowned phonetician in the world, entitled “Variation and Universals in VOT: Evidence from 18 languages ” by Peter and me.)

But what made me still uncomfortable was the way he addressed my name. He kept calling me “Mr. Cho, ” instead of “Taehong. ” A few days later when I met him to talk more about the VOT project, Peter was still calling me “Mr. Cho.” I was sure I didn ‘t look either so old or formal (at least to my judgment on my appearance). So I finally got my guts to ask him not to call me “Mr. Cho ” but to call me by my first name. He then immediately said he would love to if I would promise him one thing–calling him ‘Peter,’ not ‘Professor Ladefoged’ in exchange for his calling me ‘Taehong. ‘ He was intentionally calling me ‘ Mr. Cho’ because he knew that it would be otherwise extremely difficult for me as a Korean student to call him the friendly name ‘Peter ‘ we all miss. Peter, thank you for having made me feel at home from the very beginning when I started at UCLA until I left the phonetics lab.

Just the day before I heard the heart-breaking news about Peter, I was talking with my student Sun-Ah (the same first name as Sun-Ah Jun) about how much Peter loved chocolate. One day Peter brought a strange looking sandwich for his lunch. It was a sandwich filled with nothing but chocolate, which was made possible because Jenny was out of town (Jenny wouldn ‘t allow it). Peter, you not only love chocolate but also you yourself have been as sweet as chocolate, which has made everybody around you feel sweet. I still cannot imagine a world without you, Peter.

From Ken Olson:

All of us in SIL join the linguistics community in mourning the death of Peter Ladefoged, a friend and mentor for so many of us. We extend our deepest sympathy to Jenny at this time.

I had extensive contact with Peter over the years concerning things phonetic, particularly the labiodental flap. He deserves most of the credit for the addition of the sound to the IPA last year. He was the first to publish a spectrogram of the sound, which appeared in A Phonetic Study of West African Languages the year after I was born. It was Peter who encouraged John Hajek and me to submit our paper on the labiodental flap that appeared in Journal of the International Phonetic Association. And it was Peter who asked if I would make the official proposal to add a symbol for the sound to the IPA. At one point, I suggested that we submit it together, thinking that his name would add more authority to the proposal. He simply responded, “Thanks for doing this — and it should surely be you doing it, not me.”

He was always winsome and unassuming in his interactions with me, and he was never defensive even when I probably deserved it. Once when I pointed out a mistake in Preliminaries to Linguistic Phonetics, he responded, “Ah, the sins of my youth revisit me!” in passing reference to Psalm 25.

I met him twice. In 2001 I paid a visit to UCLA to see an SIL colleague. Peter took the entire afternoon off to show us around the phonetics lab and to talk about various aspects of our work. We even talked extensively about religion, at his bidding. We were able to discuss our differing views in an atmosphere of care and respect.

In 2004, he came to the SIL International Linguistics Center in Dallas to give several lectures and to offer consulting help. We gave him a desk in the International Linguistics Department next to mine, and we had a great time chatting the whole week. Fraser Bennett was thrilled to find out that they shared a taste for Lapsong Soochong tea.

I’ll end with the quote that was on his email signature for a while (Jenny is Episcopalian, by the way):


“The International Phonetic Association is like the Episcopal church.

One can hold almost any theoretical position as long as one gets the symbols right.”


Photo taken fall 2004 at Mike Cahill’s home in Duncanville, Texas. On the left is Norris McKinney, and on the right is Bob Longacre.

From Susie Curtiss:

I wasn’t Peter’s student, nor a close colleague, as my work has never been in Phonetics. But as a graduate student here at UCLA, I was his TA for Linguistics 1, I agitated next to him at an anti-war demonstration at UCLA after the U.S. bombed Cambodia, and even though I didn’t “do” phonetics, I spent considerable time in the phonetics lab. I did spend some of that time doing actual work (e.g., preparing and administering dichotic listening experiments), but mostly I spent time in the phonetics lab because it was a place so representative of Peter – a place filled with tremendous intellectual stimulation and human warmth. I was lucky enough to be a graduate student when Peter was chair of the department, and lucky enough to be a faculty colleague of his for almost three decades. I leave it to others to enumerate his remarkable contributions to Phonetics and Linguistics more broadly. What I want to say is that I still hear his booming basso profundo voice resonating through me (and the halls), I still see him winking at me with a glint in his eye, I still see his easy smiles, hear his wonderful laugh, and feel the strength of his towering presence. All of us writing on these pages are so fortunate to have known him. What an exemplary human.

From Jie Zhang:

Memories of Peter Ladefoged

I came to the UCLA Linguistics Department in 1994. Peter had already retired at that time, so I never had the fortune of taking classes from him. But his wonderful presence in the Phonetics Lab had a huge impact on me and was one of reasons that made my graduate career at UCLA so memorable.

As a world renowned authority in the field of phonetics, Peter was also one of the most humble and caring people I have ever met. He was not only generous with his knowledge in phonetics, but also with his time and wisdom in life. It’s possibly easier to achieve what he did with arrogance and selfishness, but his humility was what made him a true giant. That was the most precious lesson that I learned from him as a teacher, a mentor, and a scholar, and it has set an impossibly high standard for me, now a teacher and researcher myself, to aim for.

Peter’s humbleness was reflected in his everyday life. Here’s only one example. Right before his Vowels and Consonants went out to print, he solicited comments from lab members on the last draft of the book. I made a couple of very minor comments on the section on tone. A few months later, Peter came to me with a brand-new, signed copy of the book that said “For Jie, with thanks for your help.” I was surprised and flattered. On a scholarly level, he paid attention to even the slightest comments and incorporated them into his work if he thought they were right; on a personal level, he showed genuine appreciation to everyone who helped, not matter how trivially.

One of my most joyous personal moments at UCLA was when Peter jokingly called me the “scrutable Chinese” (as opposed to the “inscrutable Chinese”). I suppose the newer generations of Chinese students and scholars do differ in their mannerisms from their older colleagues that went through the “cultural revolution.” I was proud that Peter noticed it and thought it was a “jolly good” thing.

I learned about Peter’s death minutes before I had to give a lecture on the phonetics of vowels, which drew ample examples from A Course in Phonetics and the UCLA Phonetics Lab Data website that Peter had been working on. It was quite a coincident, as I usually only teach phonology classes. To me, it was a particularly appropriate tribute to Peter’s legacy, and I was grateful that I had an opportunity to do that.

From Hiroya Fujisaki, Hyun Bok Lee, and Zongji Wu:

Dear Jenny, her family, and colleagues at Linguistics Department of UCLA,

We are in deep sorrow at the sudden death of Peter Ladefoged, our dear and respected friend, an eminent scholar, and an irreplaceable teacher and mentor.

It is no doubt a great loss to the world of linguistics, phonetics, and speech science.

On behalf of many friends, colleagues and students here in China, Korea and Japan, who had the pleasure of working with Peter, or studying under his scholarly influence, we would like to express our most profound feeling of condolence to you.

Although Peter is no more with us in this world, he will continue to live in the hearts of all of us.

Yours truly,

Hiroya Fujisaki, Tokyo, Japan
Hyun Bok Lee, Seoul, Korea
Zongji Wu, Beijing, China

From Jianfen Cao:

Dear Jenny,

I am in deep grief at the loss of my dear and respected teacher and a great scholar, Peter Ladefoged.

I had the great opportunity of studying under Professor Peter Ladefoged’s instruction at UCLA from 1987-1989 and working under his scholarly influence since 1985, It is memorable that Peter gave me a brand-new angle of view on phonetics, with which I was able to widen and deepen in the research of Wu Dialects and Mandarin Chinese. I would like to express my sincere feeling of condolence to you and your family.

Although Peter is no more with us in this world, he will be deeply missed by many people and continue to live in the heart of all of us.

Yours truly,
Jianfen Cao
A pre-member of the Phonetics Lab at UCLA Professor at Institute of Linguistics Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Beijing, 100732 China

From Alain Marchal:

Cher(e)s Collégues,

C’est avec une immense tristesse que je viens d’apprendre la disparition de Peter ladefoged. c’est un trés grand phonéticien qui nous a quitté, un humaniste qui nous a tous beaucoup appris et dont l’oeuvre nous a considérablement influencé. je retiendrai aussi l’image d’un homme attentif aux autres, toujours prêt à prodiguer un conseil, et à vous encourager à entreprendre, à découvrir et à recommencer…

En novembre dernier, j’avais eu le grand plaisir de retrouver Peter au Queen Margaret College et il nous avait tous encore une fois entraîné dans sa passion pour la description des sons des langues en danger et la défense de la diversité linguistique; sachant méler à la perfection dans sa conférence science, conscience et humour.

Peter Ladefoged restera pour nous tous un trés grand phonéticien, un honnête homme et un grand ami.

Trés cordialement,
Alain Marchal
Laboratoire Parole et Langage
CNRS-Université de Provence

This very nice picture of Peter has been chosen by his family as the one they would prefer for obituaries or other public use.  The version below is a small-size version; for the full-size original click here.

From Jim Lubker:

I’ve known Peter, and been strongly influenced by him, since my graduate school days way back in the 60’s but the first time I heard him lecture, as opposed to present a formal paper, was when he traveled out here to the wilds of Iowa just a couple of years ago to lecture to a group of Linguists on our campus. The word of his coming to visit was spread and folks drove from all over northeast Iowa. He was, in a word, magnificent and I have clear in my mind the picture of him talking with students afterwards and patiently posing with them for pictures. They were enthralled. One of my young colleagues, from the Department of English and a brilliant scholar in his own right, said that it had been a rare and wonderful evening. Well, that was Peter: rare and wonderful. Having lost touch with reality many years ago by going into administration, I also lost touch with Peter as a scholar. But, Karin and I managed to see him now and then, here and there and he seemed always to be excited and exciting; rare and wonderful. He made a difference, he truly did.

Jim Lubker and Karin Lubker Holmgren

From Daniel Silverman:

Peter was an effortless humanist: caring, nurturing, and tough-minded. He set the warm, welcoming tone at the UCLA Phonetics Lab that permeated the whole Department of Linguistics. He offered his support to me long after I left the lab and UCLA. Peter was intellectually and emotionally generous, especially, in recent times, when I needed it most. I think what I need to do now is emulate him. That’s the best tribute I can pay, I think.

From Karen Chung:

Amazing how so many of us reacted to the news with, “But I just saw (talked with, e-mailed) him two months (weeks, days) ago…” I think it was almost a superhuman feat just staying in touch with so many of us so often. My own version of the typical reaction was – he had just two or so weeks ago e-mailed answers to questions asked by two of my Introduction to Linguistics students at Taiwan University – and they were thrilled (so was I) to have received answers from the Master himself.

Peter is the one – for me in any case – we go to whenever we encounter anything interesting, unusual or puzzling in phonetics. And he always responded warmly. Who will we go to now?

From the Phonetic Society of Japan:

We are deeply saddened by the news of Peter Ladefoged, who has been an honorary member of the Phonetic Society of Japan for many years. He has guided phonetic scientists in Japan through his outstanding writings and occasional lectures in Tokyo. He will be deeply missed and remembered by all the members of our society.

Shigeru Kiritani
President, Phonetic Society of Japan

From Pamela Munro:

I count myself very lucky to have been Peter Ladefoged’s colleague for thirty years. My first real memory of him is that he volunteered to help a new teacher who had never taught undergraduates before by giving a lecture on phonetics to my Linguistics 1 class in 1975, during which he played “God Save the Queen” on his larynx (a feat once heard never forgotten).

I am especially fortunate to have participated in two of his endangered languages phonetics projects. It was a privilege to introduce Peter and Jenny to rural Oklahoma people, customs, and food. Just two weeks ago (before his trip to India) Peter told me that he was writing a new book that he’d want my comments on. I feel honored again that he asked me, and very very sad that this won’t come to pass.

We love you, Jenny, and will miss Peter so much.

Pam Munro

The picture with the two dogs, extracted from Jenny Ladefoged’s birthday presentation at the ASA:

From Abeer Alwan:

I have wonderful memories, both professional and personal, of Peter. One of the reasons for my coming to UCLA was the potential for collaboration with UCLA’s world-class phoneticians and phonologists. Peter was extremely welcoming and generous. He gave invited lectures in my class (engineering students loved him and enjoyed his multimedia presentations on his Apple!), he welcomed my students into the phonetics laboratory and encouraged collaborations.

When I gave birth to my first child, I wasn’t quite sure how to spell his name (Niall, Nial, Nialle, etc.). So I called Peter from my hospital bed asking him for advice, and he said ‘Dear, just spell it the way you want and don’t worry about how others would pronounce it! Why, my son’s name is spelled ‘Thegn’ and no one can say it right!’  I agonized much less after that and went with the simplest spelling, Nial.

Even though I didn’t submit a paper to the ASA meeting in Minneapolis, I wanted to attend the special session celebrating Peter’s 80th birthday. I took both children with me and was so happy to see him and Jenny.

Thank you Peter for all the memories and support, and for being a wonderful person.

From Robert Kirsner:

A few words of appreciation of Peter from a non-phonetician. Peter has played a major role in my linguistic career in four ways. First of all, his article “The phonetic specification of the languages of the world,” reprinted in UCLA Working Papers in Phonetics 31, March 1976, and beginning with that famous quote from Lord Kelvin on the value of quantitative observations, inspired much of my own research on Dutch grammar (complemented the positive attitude towards quantitative data in grammatical research I was taught as a graduate student in the Columbia University Linguistics Department in the late 1960s and early 1970s.) Second in 1977-78 and 1978-79 Peter and the Phonetics Lab hosted two Dutch post-doctoral students, Marcel van den Broecke and Vincent van Heuven, who became my good friends and, in the case of Vincent, my closest colleague. Third, I once bumped into Peter on a bus going to UCLA and we got to talking. I asked him what he thought of The Sound Pattern of English and he made two remarks which I have always remembered: (1) It depends on where you want to locate language. Do you want to describe the distributional facts of the language or do you want to describe what is in people’s heads? And (2), with respect to the latter, the brain is much better at remembering than at computing. This last statement has fueled my current interest in usage-based approaches to language, a major point of Langacker’s approach to Cognitive Linguistics. Finally, when first telling me about Marcel van den Broecke, Peter emphasized the fact that Marcel’s Utrecht University thesis, Hierarchies and rank orders in distinctive features (1976), showed that no system of distinctive features then available accounted for the empirical data on frequencies and rank orderings of sound segments. In other words, all of those systems were falsified. Peter’s glee in seeing empirical data falsifying theoretical proposals was the attitude of a true scientist!

A memorial service for Peter was held at UCLA on Saturday, Feb. 4, at 2 pm, in the Herb Morris room in Royce Hall (Royce 314).  It was sponsored by the Ladefoged family and the Linguistics Department.  Attendance was high, packing both Royce 314 and the adjacent Royce 306, where closed-circuit television was installed.

The speakers, in order, were Tim Stowell, Thegn Ladefoged, Katie Bottom, Shirley Forshee, John Ohala, Ian Maddieson, Louis Goldstein, Sandy Disner, Dani Byrd, Bruce Hayes, Sun-Ah Jun, Sarah Dart, and Pat Keating.

A page recording some of the content of the service is located here.

From Allen Klinger:

I vividly remember many things about Peter – it’s hard to keep to my self-imposed limit of three. The ones that stand out are very much like the other memories. This man was simply put a continuing blessing to us who knew him.

Peter taught me many things. Once, he put strongly that I was incorrect about my pattern-oriented view of writing systems. His words, “there was one and only one invention of the alphabet” stay with me as a beacon to the unity of mankind and the flow of ideas.

When my long time friend told me his daughter at Yale, then unsure of her major had heard a lecture, and now was studying Linguistics, I didn’t need the confirmation: I knew it was Peter from the way he described the inspiring nature of the talk.

My eyes tear every time I think of Peter auditing my graduate class, “Speech and Language Communication in Artificial Intelligence.” He taught me it was ok to be a student, no matter what one’s age.

From Pascal Perrier:

On behalf of the members of the Association Francophone de la Communication Parlée (the French Speaking Speech Communication Association), I’d like to express my deepest sympathy and sadness on Peter’s death. Peter’s contribution to the field of phonetics was tremendous and every one of us has been influenced at some stage of his/her research career by Peter’s books and papers. I saw Peter for the last time in June 2004 during the conference organized in honor of Ken Stevens at MIT. After his brilliant, very provocative presentation, I had a short discussion with him about … phonemes. He argued with me on the basis of numerous examples from I don’t know how many languages, I did not even know. I will never forget his kindness, his intelligence, his erudition and the gleam of amusement in his eyes.

Pascal Perrier
President of the Association Francophone de la Communication Parlée

Organizers of the Manchester Phonology Meeting

In light of the recent sad news of the death of Peter Ladefoged, the organisers of the Manchester Phonology Meeting would like to dedicate the next meeting to his memory, to show our great respect for his work. We feel that this is especially appropriate as the meeting will feature a special session on ‘Fieldwork and Phonological Theory’. Ladefoged’s contribution to the development of phonological fieldwork and thus to our knowledge of the phonology of the world’s languages is, of course, immeasurable.

As well as the already advertised invited speakers on the topic (Dan Everett, Larry Hyman and Keren Rice), the mfm will feature a discussion of Ladefoged’s approach and contribution to fieldwork, led by Dan Everett and Jacques Durand, and a collection for the Endangered Languages Fund, following the request that donations be made to ELF in his memory.

Abstracts may still be submitted for the Manchester Phonology Meeting until 20th February 2006.

Full details of the mfm can be found here.

link to New York Times obituary

From Aniruddh Patel:

February 9, 2006

The morning after I heard the news about Peter’s passing, my 2-year old daughter asked to hear one of her favorite CD’s, the Broadway Cast Recording of the Lion King. As the first number (“The circle of life”) opened, with its sense of wonder at the expansiveness of the spreading African dawn, I was reminded of Peter in many ways. Of his time in Africa doing fieldwork, of the way he conveyed the beauty and sweep of phonetics, from its broad ideas to its very specific details. How he knew so much, but used that knowledge to convey the majesty of the world he studied, rather than to place himself above others. How he encouraged the joy of discovery. To me, the lyrics and music of this piece will always resonate with my memory of Peter Ladefoged.

“Circle of Life”

From the time we arrive on this planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There is more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done

There is far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round

It’s the circle of life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle
The circle of life

— Elton John & Tim Rice

Sound file (mp3 format)

From Matt Gordon:

Peter Ladefoged’s passing is a tremendous loss to the linguistics community and to me personally. I originally met Peter as a first year graduate student and was immediately impressed by his kind and gentle manner. I had a chance to work with him after he and Ian Maddieson hired me to work on their endangered language grant following my first year of graduate study. I worked several years with Peter and Ian on this grant. Peter was even kind enough to bring me along on a fieldwork trip to Oklahoma, an invaluable experience in my training.

I will always be incredibly grateful for these opportunities—doing phonetic work on understudied languages from all over the world was my dream job and laid the groundwork for my continued interest in documenting endangered languages.

Throughout graduate school and even afterwards, I learned an incredible amount from Peter not only in terms of academic training but also from his interactions with other people on both a professional and personal level. Peter always took a genuine interest in my work and was always eager to help resolve any problems I was having. He had a very calm demeanor; I always felt comfortable around him and was never intimidated by him despite his stature in the field. I will always have fond memories of my interactions with Peter and will always be indebted to him for the many opportunities he has given me as a linguist. I will miss Peter on many levels and feel extremely fortunate to have known him.

From Paul Chapin:

Dear Jenny,

I’ve just read of Peter’s death, with great sorrow. From the first time I met Peter, 40 years ago, I’ve always thought of him as the complete man – brilliant, vigorous, accomplished, full of fun. It was a great privilege to have him as a member of the NSF Linguistics Panel for three years, and supporting his lab at UCLA was always a Linguistics Program investment that I was able to point to with pride and mine “nuggets” from that showed what good work the Program was supporting.

I hope you can take comfort in knowing that Peter affected so many lives for the better, and that we join you in missing him and in remembering him fondly.

With all best wishes,

Daily Telegraph obituary; thanks to Briony Williams and John Wells for sending.

From Peter Goodall:

I have a permanent reminder of Peter in my passport. Under the heading ‘any distinguishing marks’ is the note “scar bridge of nose”. Peter and I were part of Army Medloc draft RVHRA from Colchester, Essex to Trieste, Italy late in 1946.

Prior to the incident, which seems only yesterday, Peter was asleep as the train rumbled on through Germany only for him to be partially disturbed by being poked with his own beloved alpenstock. Lashing out with his legs in retaliation, his left boot caught my nose resulting in considerable damage and a blood stained and dirty sticking plaster for the all important interview with the Brigadier at our destination. Peter never forgot the damaged nose and was always asking after its welfare including, on one occasion, calling across the parade ground, during CO’s Parade, in his booming voice,

 “how’s the appendage”.

The CO heard and burst in laughter.

After service with him in Italy, in Malta and in England my final memory of Peter is his being hauled out of The Grand Union Canal at Greenford Middlesex, after his swimming it late one night following a dinner in the mess to celebrate his demobilisation.

His much battered hat with it’s heavy silver badge was gone for ever.

He was a great man.

Peter Goodall

From Gunnar Fant:

G, Fant Febr 11 2006

Dear Jenny,

The message came as a shock. Peter, our closest friend in the USA, so radiant and engaging as ever when we recently met in Stockholm. How could this happen?

Speech sciences has lost its grand old man, a loss for so many of us who have learned from him and followed his way through science.

The loss is great and what remains is the memory of a man exceptional in his care and giving to students and colleagues all over the world.

The several times I spent in your home and at UCLA together with Anita belong to our best memories. One is the annual cannon race of two miles, running or walking at your leisure. Every one got a personally motivated prize, labeled according to a suitable category invented for the occasion.

Peters enthusiasm in experimental techniques is well documented. An incident that he often told about was from his stay in Stockholm 1961. He was about to use me as a subject for sub-glottal pressure measurements. He pushed a probe through my left nostril to reach the laryngeal region. It was pretty tough, he had to push hard and I had tears in my eyes. Eventually the tip of the probe appeared in my right nostril.

Results from his experiments in Stockholm appeared in our STL-QPSR 3/1962 and later in his books.

We join in warmest sympathy

Gunnar and Anita

From Amalia Arvaniti:

In the spring of 1999, while on sabbatical leave at OSU, I was invited by Sun-Ah Jun to visit UCLA in order to work on GRToBI with her student Mary Baltazani (who had an infant daughter and could not come to OSU). Accepting the invitation was difficult as the trip was not planned, so I had no funding for it, and neither Mary nor Sun-Ah had room for guests. We did not know what to do when Peter and Jenny stepped in and graciously offered to let me stay with them for two weeks. I agreed to this arrangement, but could not help feeling a bit anxious. I had met Peter and Jenny in several conferences, going back to the second LabPhon in 1989, but I had never mastered enough courage to go and talk to Peter. But my worries were all in vain. The friendliness and laid back attitude of both Peter and Jenny made me feel immediately at home (e.g. Peter’s explanation about loading the

dish-washer: “if you are wondering if there is a system, there isn’t any”). But they were not just easy-going hosts; they really took good care of me, even taking me to spend July 4th with members of their family in their by now famous (former) house on the Hollywood Hills.

Peter and I also discussed my work, but he often preceded such conversations with a warning that he found intonation too difficult! I tried to send them flowers after I returned to Columbus, but I am not sure they ever reached them; if they didn’t, neither Jenny nor Peter showed any sign in later years of finding me ungrateful. Since coming to UCSD, I had taken it for granted that I would invite Peter to give a talk here. As it turns out, I never got around to issuing this invitation; I simply thought there was plenty of time. I guess he had always seemed to me so much larger than life that it never occurred to me a day would come when he would no longer be with us.

From Hugo Quené:

Dear Jenny, and others,

With great sorrow I heard about the death of Peter.

During the Phonetic Congress in Tallinn (1987), Peter surprised me, and other rookies, with his “human tape recorder” performance. Members of the audience uttered incomprehensible sound sequences in their native tongues, which Peter alone managed to reproduce faithfully and accurately.

His work continues to be a great source of inspiration for everybody working in phonetics. I wish you strenght in carrying this great loss.

Best wishes,
Hugo Quené

From Sieb Nooteboom:

Dear Jenny and others,

The sad news about Peter’s sudden death reached me only yesterday, February 13th. I had been abroad with no email contact for a number of weeks. It is hard to believe. In my mind Peter was an inspiring, kind, and undestructible force, going on for ever. The first time I met him must have been at a meeting at the University of Essex in Colchester, I guess in January 1970. At a given moment John Laver and Peter were competing in who could make the most and rarest “funny noises”. Then Eli Fischer Jørgensen called out: “Stop it Peter. You can’t even pronounce your own name”, referring of course to the Danish name Ladefoged. If she was right, this must have been the only sequence of speech sounds Peter could not pronounce.

Sieb Nooteboom

From Lise Menn  (updated):

Here’s the only picture I have of Peter, in case you’d like to post it. We were all on a boat coming back from a lobster dinner on one of the islands in Boston harbor. Sorry I can’t identify the other people in the picture!  [Abeer Alwan has kindly identified Peter’s interlocutor as Prof. Anna Esposito – BH ]


From Robert Rodman:

Many of us emailers knew Peter as OldFogey. He never neglected to answer an email or address a question, however naive or silly. Starting with Linguistics 103 at UCLA in 1970, Peter remained my teacher for the 30 some odd years after I left UCLA. “[We] shall not look upon his like again.”

From Peter Ladefoged’s students at USC:

Over the last two years, we have had the good fortune of taking Peter’s phonetics seminars at USC. It was not only educational but also a great honor to see his enthusiasm for languages and their complexity. Many of us previously only knew him as the author of A Course in Phoneticsand never expected that we would ever have the good fortune to meet him in person.

We were quite quiet during the first class or two, in awe of being in the presence of a man with such an incredible reputation. Peter’s welcoming and informal approach certainly became clear to us soon enough, when he had a slightly red-faced student stand against a wall and produce a monotone “ahhh” while he pushed the student’s chest to show that higher airflow through the glottis increases not only amplitude but also F0.

He was never short of good humor. During one class he announced that the blue shirt he proudly sported was from Africa and that the process of fixing the dye to the shirt had involved soaking it in cow urine. He affectionately noted that his family dubbed it the “cow-piss shirt.”

We will remember Peter’s humility, passion for life and generosity. We were all impressed with his vast knowledge, and with the fact that, even as a Professor Emeritus, he carried an iBook full of research materials, so visibly enjoyed teaching, and was genuinely interested in our research.

It was a great pleasure to know this wonderful human being and great scientist. We will all miss his voice and smile.

Thank you, Peter.

Rebeka Campos, Susie Choi, Carolina Gonzalez, Jelena Krivokapic, Sungbok Lee, Michal Martinez, Alexsandro Meireles, Simona Montanari, Ana Sanchez Muñoz, Eurom Ok, Michael Shepherd, Stephen Tobin.

Some more memories:

In my opinion, Peter’s success with the students came from his equal-to-equal attitude. Let me give an example:

I took Peter’s USC seminar last spring semester. As part of the class, I started a project on Basque that, with Peter’s guidance, turned into a conference presentation at the last Minneapolis ASA meeting.

In Minneapolis, after listening to my poster presentation, he said that he felt more convinced than ever about my findings and that the poster looked great. I really blushed, but that was not all. He went on to say that now I should revise my webpage and emphasize more than I’m a phonetician. That coming from him made feel more confident and motivated to continue with my phonetic projects and my linguistics career in general. Now I just feel sad that Peter won’t be here to see me and my classmates graduate and go on to teach what we learned from him.

I have another example of Peter’s special relationship with his students:

When we went out for dinner with Carol Fowler after her talk last year, he was telling us that one of the reasons he didn’t yet have US citizenship was because he had a criminal record. During the 1970 campus demonstrations, he had intervened for some students in front of the police and they had arrested him, basically, because he had been defending the students.

-Rebeka Campos

We had decided that the technology support department in our building was conspiring against our class… it seemed they could never get the Mac cart to our room in time for class to start on time. I told Peter that I would complain to the department supervisor (who took the bus with me), and Peter quickly told me not to. He had discovered that the entire staff in that office (other than the supervisor) were speakers of Gujarati… and you just never know when you’re gonna need native speakers of Gujarati…

-Michal Martinez

I hope wherever he is now, he is still helping knowledge in general and, of course, that he is happy and peaceful. Thank you!

-Alexsandro Meireles

Jelena Krivokapic adds:

Here are also two links we found and thought might be interesting to post:

Here’s a link to an interview (text and audio) Peter gave to the BBC on linguistic diversity and language extinction:

From Cheng-Chang Tan:

I am so sorry (shocked & saddened) to learn of Peter’s passing. He was such a kind & gentle soul yet wise & brilliant beyond words.

I had read A Course in Phonetics and heard so much about the great phonetician Peter Ladefoged before meeting him for the first time. I was a mere undergraduate in awe of the legend, but his unassuming demeanor immediately made me feel at ease. However, my sense of amazement & respect only deepened as I got to know him in person. He gave me the privilege of helping him translate some of his theories & algorithms into computer programs. The few years I spent at the UCLA Phonetics Lab well over a decade ago left a lasting impression and continues to shape who I am today. Peter played an integral part in the experience and for that

I am very fortunate and eternally grateful.

Cheng Cheng (Saw) Tan
UCLA Class of ’94

From Elaine Andersen:

I met Peter my first summer in graduate school when I attended a course he taught with John Ohala at the LSA summer school in Santa Cruz. He seemed larger than life to me, in both his physical and his intellectual presence.

MANY years later I had the opportunity of co-teaching a general education class at USC with Peter, and even at the end of that wonderful experience, he was still larger than life for me. My thoughts are with Jenny & his family.

From Piero Cosi, President of the Italian Association for Speech Sciences:

We have placed on our Association web page ( an obituary of Peter Ladefoged by Prof. Amedeo De Dominicis.  To locate, click “REMEMBERING” in the left frame of our home page.

An interview by the BBC with Ian Maddieson:

Thanks to Caroline Smith and Robyn Read for pointing this out.

A memorial page at the University of Edinburgh; thanks to Bob Ladd.

From Krishna Bhattacharya:

I am so shocked and saddened to know that Professor Peter Ladefoged is no more.I had never met him.I have read several of his books.I used to send him e-mails whenever I felt for asking for his advices in relation to some phonetic issues.He was so kind to clarify all my queries.I remember his generosity.I wished to contact him more.But unfortunately, I wouldn’t get that chance any more.His demise is a great loss to the world of linguistics.I deeply mourn the loss of Prof. Ladefoged.

Dr. Mrs. Krishna Bhattacharya
Professor , Dept. of Linguistics,
University of Calcutta

From Hyun Bok Lee:

A Tribute to Peter !

I have always felt close to Peter probably because we have shared among other things the tradition of the London School of Phonetics. In 1996 Peter was invited to Seoul as one of the three keynote speakers at the 1st Seoul International Conference of Phonetic Sciences (SICOPS 1996), organised by the Phonetic Society of Korea to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Society. I must say that his speech “The IPA and a Theory of Phonetic Description” was really an impressive one for the audience.

I have composed a ditty entitled “Dear Peter” as a tribute to Peter. I hope the the lyric will convery my feeling to Peter and to phoneticians and linguists around the world who remember Peter.


Dear Peter!

Peter, dear, we all love you,
Master of the global speech.
Always we shall cherish thee.
Forever you will live and shine in our hearts.

Hyun Bok Lee,
Prof. Emeritus of Phoentics and Linguistics, Honorary President of the Phonetic Society of Korea.

From T. M. Lin:

“I have enclosed a file to commemorate the passing of Prof. Ladefoged, and was wondering if it could be included on the “Remembering Peter Ladefoged” web page. The file is in Adobe Acrobat format due to the use of a set of pronunciation symbols (GMP).”

Click here to obtain the file.

The pamphlet that was distributed at the Memorial Service can now be downloaded from the Memorial Service Page.

From Anne Cutler:

I knew I had this photo somewhere, and every time I checked the memorial page I thought of another place it might have been…  Finally I found it and scanned it in today.  It is a memory of Peter which all in the picture will share.  All of us starving hungry after the disastrously under-catered IPA dinner at the ICPhS meeting in Tallinn, stuck there for another two hours until the buses were to pick us up… and forgetting it all in song.

[full size version]

From Mamoun Alawi:

When I was organizing the International Association for Forensic Phonetics and Acoustics IAFPA Annual Meeting 2005 in Marrakech, Morocco in August 2005, Peter accepted to be our honor guest but his physician recommended him not to travel overseas at that time period. It would have been the only opportunity for me to meet and discuss with such then a living legend. My sincere condolences for the worldwide phonetics community.

“Hi Mamoun

I’ve just seen my doctor, and he has explicitly forbidden my going to Marrakrech so soon after he has operated on my hip and when I may still have a wound that may open up.  So, sorry, but I definitely can’t go.

Many regrets

Mamoun Alaoui, M.S.E. (CUA, Washington DC, USA, ’95)
Head of Acoustics Laboratory – S.I.G.R.
Gendarmerie Royale
Kingdom of Morocco

From Robert Seyfarth and Dorothy Cheney:

When we arrived as a new, two-headed assistant professor at UCLA, we found ourselves utterly at sea. Our home department, Anthropology, offered a less than cordial welcome (things have since changed), we were far from home, and our tiny flat had a landlady who packed heat. It was all very depressing. Luckily, someone introduced us to Vicki Fromkin and she introduced us to Peter. Almost immediately things changed, both socially and intellectually. We became regular members of the lunchtime phonetics group, attended many outstanding parties, and spent a good part of our first semester as faculty members taking a course from Peter.

With wonderful good humor, Peter tolerated both our ignorance of phonetics and the fact that our primary interest was not speech but the vocalizations of vervet monkeys. For years he politely immersed himself in vervet calls whenever we asked. We learned an enormous amount, and we suspect he got the satisfaction of knowing that there were people with interests even more eccentric than his.

Peter’s contribution to ethology was further broadened when our colleague Karen McComb (now a lecturer in Zoology at Sussex) visited his lab for a few weeks in 1982 or 1983. Karen was in the midst of her (now famous) thesis research on the roars of red deer, and she wanted to learn some acoustic analysis. She had heard from us about Peter’s wonderful lab, so she decided to come for a visit. We all had a wonderful time, and we know that Karen, like us, is forever grateful to Peter. But the highlight of Karen’s visit came toward the end, when she was about to leave. Peter and Ian Maddieson asked whether they might hazard a guess about her background, based on her accent. “Sure”, Karen replied, with a smile that suggested she was sure they’d never guess. “My own view”, said Peter – seconded by Ian – “involves a Scottish university, but with a childhood somewhere in the north of Ireland and definitely English parents.” We were stunned, Karen in particular, because of course Peter and Ian got it all right.

We will never forget what we learned from Peter, but even more we will never forget his friendship.

From John Laver:

My wife Sandy and I were so sad to hear the shocking news about Peter. He and Jenny have been so kind to us both, ever since 1971 when I spent six months in the UCLA Phonetics Lab as a visiting Assistant Professor (and enjoyed their characteristic hospitality living with them for a time in their house on Kress Street). Peter had taught me experimental phonetics in 1958, when I was a first-year undergraduate at Edinburgh in David Abercrombie’s department, and I succeeded him in being in charge of the Phonetics Laboratory at the University of Ibadan just after he left to take up his post at UCLA.

I find that alongside my feelings of grief at Peter’s loss is a persistent feeling of vexation — how could someone who seemed so ever-present, so continuously active, and so ubiquitously connected to other people be so abruptly and undeservedly taken away?

Peter was a great man, perhaps the greatest who has ever adorned the profession of phonetics. But he was a great man not only in academic terms, but in personal terms too. I know of no-one who has matched him in his inspirational and warm support of students and young academics, and in his accessibility. The remarkable combination of Peter and Jenny has meant so much to so many of us.

My last encounter with Peter was in December last year, only a couple of days before he left for India on his last research trip. We had lunch at an Indian restaurant near the university. The curry was not splendid, but his eager anticipation of his fieldwork on Toda was, as ever, a joy to behold. We will all miss him so much.

From Chiu-yu Tseng:

I have found it most difficult to write something about Peter when the news of his passing first came. I got to know him and Jenny as a Visiting Scholar at the lab during the year 1988-89. Several years later he came to Taiwan to visit my lab and to collect some data of the Tsou language. Peter was always building something and I provided all kinds of tools. At one point he left a burnt mark on the work table at the lab, and I should have him sign next to it. For I’m still telling people it was Peter who left it there. And how we enjoyed going to restaurants together, especially to a little establishment that didn’t have a menu.

Over the years I saw him and Jenny at ICPhS1995 at Stockholm, ICPhS1999 at San Francisco, and ICPhS 2003 at Barcelona for the last time, and without Jenny. He and I stayed at the same hotel at Barcelona, and we’d walk to the conference venue under the scorching sun together some days talking on the way with him cupping his ear. Quite a few times when we entered the beautiful conference hall and began milling with people, he’d say, “I’m supposed to know the woman/man who’s walking over, could you help my poor brain by telling me who she is?” Then he’d wink after I gave him the answer and said, “Right”.

I will always remember Peter for how he loved sounds and work with sounds, for how he always worked, the annual 5K marathon in the late 80’s, for the parties next to the pool at his house, for the truffle Jenny made, and many other things.

The only consolation I had was how Peter had worked on what he always loved until the very end.

From Nick Emlen, Endangered Language Fund:

The Endangered Language Fund will publish this obituary of Peter Ladefoged in the upcoming issue of our newsletter, Language Legacies. Peter served on our board for 10 years, and with your permission, we’d like to post this on the memorial website.”

Board Member Peter Ladefoged Dies

On January 24, 2006, ELF board member Peter Ladefoged passed away. He served on the Board of Directors since the Fund was founded in 1996, and his tireless support and inspiration were one of the driving forces behind the establishment and continued success of ELF. Peter died after suffering a stroke on his way home to California after conducting fieldwork on the Toda language of India.

Peter was a leader in the field of phonetics. He was a professor at UCLA from 1962 until his retirement in 1991, though he continued working until his death. He was also an adjunct professor at USC and an editor of the Journal of the International Phonetic Association. His work focused on speech production, acoustic phonetics, perceptual psychology, and experimental phonetics. He spent his career cataloguing the world’s languages and developing theoretical models to explain their diversity. A passionate field worker, he also helped improve upon the instruments of phonetic data collection, and he used his data to expand the understanding of the sounds of the world’s languages. His landmark text, A course in phonetics, is the standard introduction to phonetics for students of linguistics.

One of Peter’s greatest passions was to record and collect the widest possible variety of sounds of the world’s languages. His work helped define the boundaries of the vast range of phonemes available to languages, and his 1996 work Sounds of the world’s languages, written with Ian Maddieson, is the authoritative catalogue. He searched far and wide for speech sounds which, although unattested, were theoretically possible, and his work helped identify several new phones.He was instrumental in bringing about an expansion of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to accommodate a greater number of speech sounds.

Peter was also a motivating force in the development of the instruments of phonetic data collection; many of the anecdotes of Peter’s career involve spectrographs, complex recording equipment, dental casts, palatograms, linguagrams, MRI, X-ray and ultrasound images and electromyographs. He managed to develop portable versions of some of these technologies to carry with him when he went into the field, some of them weighing over a hundred pounds and sitting precariously in the bottom of a dugout canoe or Land Rover. His 2003 book Phonetic data analysis: An introduction to phonetic fieldwork and instrumental techniques is an essential resource for phoneticians in the field.

One of Peter’s grants from the NIH established the UCLA Phonetics Lab in 1962, which he directed until 1991. The atmosphere of intellectual collaboration, carefully crafted by Peter, was described by ELF board member Louis Goldstein at Peter’s memorial service: “The lab group that sprang to life, seemingly spontaneously, but actually under his careful guidance, provided a way for those people to grow, to interact creatively and critically, to support each other, and to make collective discoveries that none of us individually could have made…As those of us who had this moment in the sun spread out and created our own labs, we brought that experience with us, attempted to imbue our own groups with its spirit. In my own experience, it is never as successful as the original, but it is there to some extent. And all of this makes the field of phonetics a much better, more human place, than it would have been.”

Peter also helped to discredit the use of voice recognition as legal evidence through several experimental studies that demonstrated the fallibility of remembering voices. His work to question this type of legal testimony came after years of acceptance of voice identification in courts, which turned out in several cases to be false. Peter was also famous for his role as the phonetics advisor to the makers of the 1964 movie “My Fair Lady.” He is not in the credits, but he was sanguine about it, pointing out that at least two actors with speaking roles were also omitted.

Peter traveled far and wide to conduct phonetics research among the world’s endangered languages. He found himself in contact with countless languages on every continent, and he frequently expressed his concern for the future of the languages he studied. As much as the languages themselves, however, Peter respected the opinions of the speakers and their right to determine the future of their languages. He is personally responsible for thousands of hours of endangered language recordings, which represent a unique and invaluable portrait of human communication. Peter’s endangered language projects helped inspire a generation of linguists concerned with the fate of the world’s languages.

The UCLA Department of Linguistics has posted a list of comments from Peter’s friends and colleagues on their web site: In addition to a lengthy tribute to Peter’s many professional accomplishments, the comments recall his generosity, humility and magnanimous character that have always inspired the affection and gratitude of the people around him. At the request of Peter’s family, many new and old members have made memorial donations to the Endangered Language Fund; thank you to the more than 50 linguists, friends, and loved ones who have contributed to ELF in his honor.

From Karen Courtenay

Peter Ladefoged gone? I just found out today, November 16, 2006. He seemed one of those people who would always be here. Jenny, I am so sorry for you and your family.

I met Peter when I was a first-year graduate student in linguistics at UCLA. It must have been in late 1962 when I took his introductory course in phonetics. I was something of a scared rabbit at the time, and found it very embarassing to try (and perhaps fail) to say exotic sounds in public. I still remember Peter saying to me “Mrs. Asika, if you do not at least attempt to pronounce these sounds, I am afraid that you will not pass this course.” I managed.

I later knew Peter as a colleague of sorts when I taught African languages in the department 1966-75, though I was never remotely in his league, and was in fact not cut out to be a college professor. Occasionally I dropped by the lab to see what new machines and techniques were there. Once I had dinner at Peter and Jenny’s place, a culture clash of sorts since I had brought two friends from another subculture who were secretly horrified at the sight of dogs under the table…. LIke others in the department I was appalled by the mistreatment Peter received from the LAPD when trying to defuse a confrontation between students and police during the Vietnam War; I was afraid he and his family would leave the U.S. in response, as I now see so many Muslims doing, but Peter stuck it out, much to our benefit!

In the late 1970s, when I was teaching at the School of Australian Linguistics in the Northern Territory of Australia, Peter spent a night or two at my decrepit house in a former uranium mining town. Our small linguistics group was introducing him to some of the more unusual Aboriginal language sounds such as interdental laterals and nasals. The town of 300 or so did not boast an evening restaurant, needless to say, and Peter became a bit alarmed at the prospect of eating in my house one night since it seemed there was virtually no food in it. He was quite relieved when I put together what was in the house and produced a pizza! I vaguely remember that on another occasion he himself produced something tasty that involved parsnips, a vegetable previously unknown to me.

The last time I saw him was in 1981 while I was visiting Los Angeles. By this time I was out of academia and about to start working in the software industry. But I did follow his career a bit through the department newsletter and various reports from friends. About five years ago, when I was studying Qur’anic Arabic for religious reasons and found myself mystified by certain Arabic sounds, I of course turned to Peter, who took time out from his many pursuits and wrote me an email telling me what he knew of the subject. He was always willing to help.

What a great loss to linguistics, and to the great number of people who counted him as a friend.

From Marija Tabain (6 May 2010)

I met Peter Ladefoged in 1998. I was travelling to Seattle via LA for my first overseas conference as a PhD student, and got in touch with the UCLA phonetics department to see if they could help me find some accommodation on campus. I was amazed when I heard back that I would be staying with Peter Ladefoged! And I was all the more amazed when I was told that they were short of room because Gunnar Fant would also be staying there, so I would have to sleep in a much smaller room than usual! When I arrived at UCLA, Vicky Anderson was showing Peter the set-up she had been using for her recordings of Arrernte in Central Australia – little did I realize that I myself would be working on this language only a few years later. I’m still amazed that Peter and his family would invite an unknown, potentially useless, foreign student to their home; but I appreciate that the gesture was intended as support for the phonetics community at a very basic level. I’d like to think that in years to come, I would offer the same support to a student who needs it.

Peter Ladefoged home page
UCLA Phonetics Laboratory
UCLA Linguistics Department

Last modified May 6, 2010