Independent Ladefoged Obituary

From the Independent

Real-life ‘Professor Higgins’ dies

By David Randall

Published: 29 January 2006

The man who was arguably the real Professor Higgins has died. He was Peter Ladefoged, a British linguist who taught the actor Rex Harrison to play a phonetician in the 1964 film My Fair Lady. He was 80.

Professor Ladefoged, who made it his life’s work to record and study the various parts of speech, died at a London hospital. He became ill while travelling home from a research trip to India. A linguistics professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles, he was recruited by the film director George Cukor to teach Harrison how to behave as a phonetician. The actor went on to win an Oscar for the role of Henry Higgins.

Peter Nielsen Ladefoged was born in 1925, in Sutton, Surrey. After army service in the Second World War, he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh. He planned to study English literature but became fascinated by the sounds of speech. He ultimately earned a doctorate in phonetics. “I wanted to find out why Shelley could write better-sounding poetry than I,” he later said.

In Nigeria, one of the first countries in which he worked extensively, he recorded 60 spoken languages. Within a few years, he had visited Africa, Mexico, India and Uganda. Later, he went to Australia, Papua New Guinea, China, Brazil and many other countries.