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LINGUIST List 17.307

Sun Jan 29 2006

All: Some Memories of Peter Ladefoged

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        1.    Daniel Everett, Some Memories of Peter Ladefoged


Message 1: Some Memories of Peter Ladefoged
Date: 26-Jan-2006
From: Daniel Everett <dan.everettmanchester.ac.uk>
Subject: Some Memories of Peter Ladefoged


Colleagues,

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.

Dan Everett


Linguistic Field(s): Not Applicable


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