Remembering Peter Ladefoged:  Memorial Service 
A memorial service for Peter Ladefoged was held at UCLA on Saturday, 4 Feb. 2006, at 2 pm, in the Humanities Conference 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 (Ladefoged) Bottom, Shirley Forshee, John Ohala, Ian Maddieson, Louis Goldstein, Sandy Disner, Dani Byrd, Bruce Hayes, Sun-Ah Jun, Sarah Dart, and Pat Keating.  A number of the speakers wrote down their remarks and provided them to this site; click on their names to go to the location below where their contributions appear.

Speakers:  if you would like to contribute your words and I have been unable to reach you, please send text or images to Bruce Hayes at , or at Department of Linguistics, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1543.

Memorial Pamphlet

The Ladefoged family produced a memorial pamphlet which was distributed at the service.  You can download a copy here.

Thegn Ladefoged

I'd like to thank all of you for attending this celebration of my father's life. Your presence here provides comfort to my family, and we thank you for that.

I suppose many children idolize their parents and feel that they are or were the most wonderful people in the world. I'm one of those children and feel truly blessed that I have had my mom and dad as parents. They have always provided their kids and grandchildren with a tremendous amount of support, both material and emotional. From reading us Winnie the Pooh, to attending my football games, to critiquing my manuscripts, Dad always gave my sisters and I so much love. For me, one of the most special things about that unconditional love and support is that it has continued to grow over the years.

Besides giving me that love, my dad taught me a great many things. He taught me humor and optimism. He also showed me how important it was to do things that you have a passion for, and how you should try and excel at those things. Perhaps more significant he also showed me how important it was to be a humble person and accept your limitations. I remember when I was 8 or 9 and we lived in Uganda. My sisters and I attended an American school and there was a sports day. As most of you know, my father was not the most athletic (although he was a pretty good boogie boarder), and at the sports day all of the fathers were going to play a baseball game against the kids. It seemed as if my dad was the only father who was not going to play in the game. My dad, knowing that he was hopeless at running and catching balls, declined, and sat on the sidelines and cheered with the mothers. I remember being really proud of him that he was strong enough to be different; that he was secure enough to cheer the success of the other fathers. Dad lived with that sense of uniqueness and security throughout his life.

The most recent, but I dare say not the last, thing that dad has taught me is how to die. In the last few years dad faced his own mortality with a sense of peace and contentedness. He realized that he had lived a wonderful life, and he hoped for more, but there seemed to be very few regrets or unfinished tasks. It seems only fitting that Dad died quickly while returning from fieldwork in India. While his death is horrible for many of us here, his life was truly wonderful.


Katie Bottom

When I think of my Dad, three qualities come to mind: First, how laid back he was, unflappable, my mother would say; second, his unflagging optimism; and third, his great kindness. I know these qualities made him a wonderful colleague, friend and husband. Trust me, they are exactly the attributes you want in a father.

My family can tell you that I am not a very good driver. When I was fifteen and first learning to drive, I was, well, worse. My father was the natural choice to practice with me. He would sit back while we drove around the San Fernando Valley for hours, never once appearing in any way nervous or alarmed. As I would occasionally forget to stop, or back into a pole, he would remark, “Never mind, dear. It doesn’t appear that any damage was done. Lets just keep going.”

My favorite lecture of my fathers was a talk he gave to a Phi Beta Kappa group back in 1989, entitled, “On Being Kind to Tortoises.” In it, he posited the theory that he himself was a Tortoise as opposed to a hare. He said that he had succeeded by finding something he liked doing and then just sticking to it. By simply plodding along in life and developing the thick shell of a tortoise, he said, he was able to overcome such setbacks as being thrown out of high school for organizing a drinking club.

And I think it was his qualities of kindness, optimism and calm combined with his instruction on being a tortoise, that allowed my sister, brother and I to succeed in life. As we made our own mistakes, as we fumbled around in life, he never once let us believe that we would do anything other than succeed. He imbued in us a feeling of it just being a matter of finding that one thing we each liked to do and then doing it. And in time, we each did. We owe a lot of our happiness to our parents for that.


Louis Goldstein

I want to remember some of the gifts that Peter has given us-his students, his colleagues, the field of phonetics. One of these is the lab group and lab meeting. Peter noted in his short autobiography, that it was never about the equipment, but rather the people. And 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. (I do remember one time we seriously considered submitting an ASA abstract under a pseudonym that would stand for the lab as a whole). Even at the time, we marveled that the lab meetings were an example of a wonderfully successful anarchy, that doesn't seem to work in other, larger contexts, and we knew that it was Peter's hand behind the anarchy that allowed it to work.

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.

Other gifts. There are a variety of them, because in the Hollywood idiom, Peter was more the Wizard of Oz than he was Henry Higgins. He discerned, surely with help from Jenny, the prescriptions individuals needed to get on with their lives and careers-courage, discipline, focus-and then dispensed them with his own unique style. Sometimes what was needed was pretty basic. For example, in the days (or rather nights) of swimming, the thought of exiting from Peter and Jenny's superheated pool into the cool California night could have been very daunting, but you knew that Peter would be there pouring glasses of whiskey, and that made it possible to get out.

One of the gifts to me was an environment that gave me the courage to try things without fear of failure. I recall the first time I had dinner at Peter and Jenny's. Just before dinner, they asked for volunteers to carve the turkey. No one spoke up; so I did. After suitably dismembering it, Peter asked where I had learned to carve a turkey. "Never tried it before," I said.

He had a unique way of getting his point across, one that managed to be both very incisive but still playful. When I described to him, during my first year, an experiment I was in the process of doing, he compared it to trying to sell a pair of shoelaces for a million dollars. I responded that, of course I only needed to sell one pair. As it turned out, I sold my pair; the experiment worked. But nonetheless I got his point about risky experiments.

In the course of dispensing what was needed, he was also able to make use of clever strategies that he employed in his science. Late one night, a friend and I sneaked into Peter and Jenny's pool for an unauthorized swim, emerging undetected, so we thought. The next day while making a cappuccino (using the aptly named "Atomic" machine that Peter and Jenny had donated to the lab), Peter asked me if I had enjoyed my swim. "Very much," I replied, "how did you know it was me?" "I didn't know," he said, "I've been asking that same question to everyone."

Finally, I want to say something about my long-time friend and colleague, Cathe Browman, who would very much want to be here but for her horrible illness, and she wanted me to include her. Because of that illness, she has not been able to show much emotion over the last several years. But when I told her of Peter's death via video iChat (I have been out here for 2 weeks), she was more animated than I had seen her in a very long time, and we cried together connected by our computer screens (a use of communication technology Peter would have appreciated; Cathe actually installed the first modem on the Phonetics Lab computer and wrote the software for it). Both Peter and Jenny always asked after her, and sent their love, and it meant a lot to her. And whatever the merit of the research she and I were able to produce together, we could never have done it without the gifts we received from Peter.


Sandra Disner

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 grand Hollywood adventure, 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 - and this of course includes the innocent. 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. He was particularly provoked by the use of the term "voiceprints" for "sound spectrograms", which falsely implies that these are comparable to fingerprints. His clear-eyed evaluation of the methodology employed by so-called "voiceprint examiners" - who, whether they wished to admit it or not, were blending art and science -- and of the sorry 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. It raised the same sort of doubts about guilt as were later raised by DNA testing.

Peter usually kept his academic and his expert witness personae quite separate, but on the rare occasions when he had to go directly from classroom to court, he turned a lot of heads. On those days Peter, who was usually clad in a loose African tunic or a "best in division" 5K-run tee shirt, would show up at UCLA in an elegantly tailored suit, crisp white shirt, and tasteful gold tie. From the looks on his students' faces, he might as well have been wearing a space suit, or a gorilla outfit. But for the eyebrows, he was unrecognizable.

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.


Dani Byrd

January 26, 2006

Dear Peter:

You always told us, your students, that if we could not express it in numbers, our knowledge was “meager and unsatisfactory.” I believe that was the quotation from Lord Kelvin, right? So, Peter, imagine my dilemma, sitting here in a last effort to write something for you, but finding that I’m wholly unable to be that clear and exact scientist you advised us to be.

I can count your books and articles but it would be saying very little because it would not measure how they changed our field. I can count editions of A Course in Phonetics, but how could I quantify the generations of scientists that have been and will go on being taught phonetics as you defined it.

I can only poorly estimate the number of students that have sought out your classroom…thousands, maybe tens of thousands. What an incredible blessing that my own students, yet another generation, had the great fortune to be taught by you these last two years! I, and uncountable other students, always so wanted to please you, and you always did everything in your power to make that possible. How many hours did you spend meeting with us making our work better than it was before?

And how many days did you spend in the field with lovely people who put on their finest clothing to honor your visit and educate the world via your voice and your pen? I can’t begin to count the number of languages that you brought to science—even Ian doesn’t know that. Would even Jenny know the number of palatography-stained shirts? Or diet Cokes? Or waves caught?

I can only imagine the large number of people you and Jenny, very quietly, helped through their most agonizing of personal crises. I don’t know how to measure how warm your large hands were on mine in times of need or how sure my heart was of your confidence and support. Is there some way to measure the one-ness and mutual delight that was yours and Jenny’s together? Actually, I wouldn’t wish to measure it at all; I know only that I aspire to it for my husband and myself. When Oliver and I got married, you and Jenny gave us, in addition to a wedding present, an elegant edition of A.A. Milne’s The World of Pooh. I suppose today I should remember Winnie the Pooh saying to Christopher Robin: “If there ever comes a day when we can't be together keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever.”

Peter, we weren’t ready for you to leave. Too many of us still have data waiting to show you. Too many of us still need your advice. I fear that I am failing you, somehow, here in our last conversation, that I simply cannot reach your standard of sure quantification. But of this I am certain—you will always be in my heart as my guide to being an honest scientist and being a worthy friend and colleague.

I’ve also been thinking, Peter, that you might have been wrong about needing numbers to satisfy. Oh, maybe it’s true that there is no way to be other than “meager and unsatisfying” in saying a last goodbye. But there are an uncountable number of us that know with all the sureness in our hearts that we loved you, even if we can never tell you just how much or number all the reasons why.


[full size version of above image]


Bruce Hayes

I came to UCLA Linguistics Department in 1981 as an Assistant Professor and had the great good fortune to be assigned an office in the Phonetics Laboratory, where I've stayed, ever since. So for much of the last 25 years, which is about half of my life, I'd had the privilege of sharing Peter's company.

I'd like to begin my remarks by asking a silly question, which is why we are gathered here together. The obvious answer is that in hard times it's good to have your friends with you. But there another reason, too, I think--that this is a very good opportunity to understand Peter better. We want to assimilate in our memories the clearest, best picture of Peter we can, because for those of us who knew him well this will be an important part of our store of memories, for the rest of our lives. There's a lot to be said for recording as many insights and idiosyncratic details as we can.

In your booklet you can find the web address for a page entitled Remembering Peter Ladefoged (to which I continue to invite people to contribute). On this page, you can find a fair number of details about Peter, which I've enjoyed learning. My own little contribution to this page focuses on Peter's impact on my own field of phonology, but at the end I made it a little more personal, saying:

Peter brightened my day whenever he was here.

I'd like to try to pin this statement down a bit--why would a colleague characteristically brighten my day?

I think that part of it is that Peter always created an aura of being relaxed, in a cheerful sort of way. I could hear this in the low-key, almost courtly language he used to address Jenny, or in his response to the occasional crisis, where he kept things calm by keeping his voice down and dipping into traditional British slang like "a bit thick". Peter's relaxed persona was also evident in his intonational pattern, which, I would say, was characteristically languid. If you'll go to the UCLA Phonetics Lab archive, which was Peter's last big project, you'll hear him starting off many recordings in just this sort of intonation, essentially using his voice to set the native speaker consultant at ease.

Related to this sense of relaxation, I think, is that Peter had a strong sense of personal comfort, seen for instance in his self-reported practice of writing books in the bathtub, or in bed surrounded by dogs.

Peter was an early enthusiast for laptop computers in part because, as many of us can witness, they permitted him to do his writing in a posture that looked like this:

and not like this:

All of this genial relaxation might have been a bit dull had it not be present in someone who had such a lively mind. Peter always had something interesting to say about any topic, and of course his professional research showed this trait in spades: it made him a pioneer in so many areas. To mention a few, there was the use of electromyography to monitor muscles in speech, the use of inverse filtering to study phonation types, the transplantation of the phonetics laboratory to the field, or--to go closer to my own area--the theoretical concept of distinct articulatory and acoustic features.

    In the end, I think the key trait behind Peter's persona was (just as Katie said) optimism. Peter was fond of telling other professors that he had been turned down for more grant money than anyone else he knew. At first blush that sounds like an utterance of a self-pitying pessimist, but in fact you have to take it in context--what Peter meant was that it was by going out on a limb, repeatedly, that he managed to win more research grants than any linguist ever had. In fact, I think that when Peter said this, it was essentially a statement of pride in his own optimism. This is the personal trait in Peter that I perhaps admire the most, and will do my very best to remember.


Sarah Dart

Incredible as it seems now, when I started as a graduate student at UCLA in 1981 I had never before used a computer. It was Peter who inadvertently gave me my first experience manipulating a computer mouse. He called me into his office to share something up on the tiny screen of his first Macintosh, and, without any warning, I found I was supposed to click and drag something, for the first time in my life. I did not put on a very good show-- arriving too soon at the far edge of the mousepad, I was at a loss as to how to continue. Rather than telling me what to do, Peter just waited quietly, watching my struggles, until I had finally figured out that I could lift it off the pad and start again where I left off. That was his way. He would lead us to the questions and then watch over us without interfering until we arrived, on our own, at the solutions. That is the sign of a true teacher.

As many have said, one of Peter's gifts was to involve students and colleagues alike on an equal footing in the lab. Every week all the lab members would sit in a circle in the lab and try together to figure out an unknown spectrogram. The commentary would go around the circle and each person had to point out something and make an educated guess on the value of one of the segments. This could be rather stressful for us students as our turn approached, surrounded by professors with much more experience. However, it turned out to be a wonderful lesson on how professors could be fallible too-- making confident statements like, "It's obviously an [m]" or "a classic velar" when, in fact, it turned out to be nothing of the kind. Peter was never afraid to confess ignorance, it was all part of the fun of learning.

But, for all his relaxed ways, Peter was always alert to his role as a teacher and mentor. And this could sometimes come crashing right down on your head, just when you least expected it. I remember once when we were all practicing our talks for the upcoming Acoustical Society meeting. One of the students had not prepared sufficiently and was bumbling around in an inconclusive way. We were all stunned to silence when Peter said harshly, "If you can't do any better than that, I will not allow you to give your presentation and represent this lab." He would not let us shame ourselves with a mediocre paper.

One of Peter's great strengths was his ability to keep focussed on the relevant task at hand. His total disregard for the irrelevant, however, sometimes went beyond what the rest of us could manage. I remember one day Peter came to the lab meeting, sat down, put his feet up on a chair and began to speak about the topic of the day-- a normal beginning to the meeting. However, this time the informality had reached new heights (or depths) even for Peter. The whole front half of one of his shoes was torn wide open and shredded, with bits hanging down in all directions. And with his feet up it was just a bit too close to eye-level for most of us to pretend we didn't notice. At our curious glances he finally looked down absent-mindedly and said, oh yes, the dog had eaten that one--- And went back to talking about the important things.

When I read in Marie Huffman's contribution to the memorial webpage, about her uneasiness when Peter told her that no one would believe a recommendation unless it contained both criticism and praise, I decided I'd better look back at the one he wrote for me, which my colleague had shared with me after I was hired, (so I knew it couldn't have been that bad.) Well, Marie, you'll be relieved to know that, unless there was something sinister in the rather bland observation "She has a pleasant disposition that is very suitable in a teacher," I think Peter's comment about criticism was just meant to keep us on our toes with the uncertainty, making us aware that despite his loyal support of us, he would also be constrained by truth and we'd better strive to deserve that loyalty.

Another thing he said in that letter was a phrase that I'm willing to bet he used in many, many of our recommendations. It is very characteristic of both his humility and the egalitarian atmosphere that prevailed in the lab. My version went like this: "It is always good when one of one's students shows that what one has written in a textbook is plainly false! I am delighted to learn from her." And I think that sums up Peter pretty well, he was delighted to learn. And we were so fortunate to be able to learn from and with him. Thank you Peter.


Sun-Ah Jun

It is an honor to be given a chance to speak at this memorial service for Peter Ladefoged. Like many others in the field, I was introduced to phonetics through Peter's book A Course in Phonetics. I didn't know that the saggital view of the handsome man in Chapter 1 was Peter Ladefoged until I first saw him in early 90s at the Ohio State University Linguistics Department colloquium. (It became clear that the man was Peter after I saw Thegn, Peter's son. They really look alike!). At that time, I was excited to hear him speak, but didn't have a chance to talk to him in person.

In 1993, when I came to UCLA to give a job talk for the position that opened after Peter's retirement, Peter came to me after my talk, and with a smiling face and resonating deep voice, he said he wanted to ask me some questions and told me that I shouldn't worry about my answers because he was not a voting member of the department. It was clear from my first personal encounter with him that Peter has a great sense of humor and warmth that makes people around him feel welcome and comfortable. A few months later, I met Peter again at the Laboratory Phonology Conference in Oxford. It was after I had accepted the job offer from UCLA. Peter introduced me to the people at the conference by saying "She is me!". I was so honored to be introduced that way. We were laughing when someone said how the IPA sound would change if it's produced by a small vocal tract. I could never be like him, but I will try my best. I just wish he could be with us for longer time so I could show him how I am doing.

One of the few unforgettable experiences I have had at UCLA was to visit Cheju Island, off the coast of Korea, to do fieldwork with Peter in 1998. It was part of his endangered languages project. We spent two weeks in Cheju Island, collecting data from the villages in the mountain area. But the island was small enough for us to stay in the city at night and visit the village in the daytime. Every evening, Peter was writing his book on his laptop computer in the bathtub. He didn't seem to have any jet lag. He also had a good appetite, but he was watching his diet. One evening, we were having dinner at the hotel restaurant. When I ordered 'ome-rice' (fried rice omelet), he said that was too high in cholesterol. He ordered some decent healthy food for himself. After the meal, he wanted to have a diet Coke. So we walked around for a few blocks and found diet Coke at a supermarket, but he didn't like it because the sugar level was too high. I didn't know that the sugar level of diet Coke differs from country to country. After searching for a real Diet Coke for about five more blocks, he gave up and drank the 'sweet' diet Coke. I thought that was the end of our dinner. Well, no! Peter asked me if he could have some ice cream! Sure...he had a huge chocolate ice-cream with chocolate topping! That was so Peter!

After our field work, we visited my hometown, and we both gave a talk at my alma mater. That was a special moment in my life. The next day, Peter wanted to meet my parents. My parents were of course very happy to meet him. After finding out that my father is one year younger than him, Peter requested my father to call him 'older brother' in Korean. Peter seemed to know that age is very important in Korean culture. My father was delighted with Peter's humor and impressed with Peter's humble, casual, and warm personality. … Peter came to my office when he heard about my father's passing two years ago and said he was truly sorry. I told Peter how great it is that he was healthy, and he said he didn't do anything special. He just inherited a good body from his parents. I truly believed that Peter would live many more years to come.

I am a very lucky person to have been his colleague for the past 13 years. He wouldn't know how much I was impressed with his scholarship and personality. He was like a big tree providing shade and breeze to many people. He taught me how I should live. I will try to be humble like him, warm like him, diligent in writing like him, and be positive and optimistic like him. I will miss him a lot.


Pat Keating

Peter was the chair of both the search committee and the department when I was hired in 1980, and of course once I arrived he was my closest colleague and mentor. It's really hard to distill our 25 years together into a few words. But I've used the occasion of speaking here today as a reason to review what I've learned, or should have learned, from Peter. Some of these lessons are trivial, some more profound, some of them - well, let's just say that reasonable people can disagree about some of them.

The most profound is the one I am least able to talk about, and that's about the phonetics lab. People who were here at different times have tried to analyze, to put into words, what made the lab special to them. All I can say today is that I hope that this part of Peter's legacy will continue strong in his absence.

Peter was incredibly productive, so obviously he had a lot of wisdom to impart about how to get work done (in addition to marrying Jenny, that is). His pearls of wisdom include:

Of course one element in Peter's productivity was his success in getting external grants to fund his research. He had a couple of important lessons about that, too:

Peter had a fair amount of advice to offer on preparing papers, posters, and talks: explicit advice, such as --

In addition to such explicit advice that Peter gave as occasions arose, I think we all learned one implicit lesson about giving talks, namely:

Many others have commented on Peter's collegiality, which showed itself in various ways, such as his founding and for years hosting the annual department 5K walk/run/swim/eat. I think I have distilled a few specific tips about being a colleague:

Here's a very specific one that certainly made a big impression on me:

And one that is not specific to faculty, that I think has been ingrained in the minds of most lab members over the years:

There are a lot of these lessons that I still need to work on. I'll miss having Peter as mentor and role model, and I'll miss showing him my future personal improvement. But I'll also miss teasing him. For example, here's something I'll miss: In his talks, Peter would quote Lord Kelvin for having said "You do not really know anything until you can express it in terms of numbers." And then I would pipe up, "But Peter,wasn't it also Lord Kelvin who said "The radio has no future"?". Maybe I'll start quoting Lord Kelvin in seminars just to see if someone else will take over my line.

It's hard to believe he's gone, isn't it? After his retirement, when Peter would try to offer an opinion about running the lab or about course offerings or anything else, Jenny would say "Peter, be quiet! You're history!" You're history. And now he really is.


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Last modified February 5, 2006