LINGUIST List 18.1460

Mon May 14 2007

All: Obituary: Tony Traill

Editor for this issue: Ann Sawyer <>

Directory         1.    Tucker Childs, Obituary: Tony Traill

Message 1: Obituary: Tony Traill
Date: 11-May-2007
From: Tucker Childs <>
Subject: Obituary: Tony Traill

Sadly I report the death of Anthony Traill, noted phonetician and generalexpert on Khoisan and other languages of southern Africa. Tony’s mostimportant scholarly contributions were in phonetics, especially hisextensive work on clicks, e.g., Traill 1994a, but he also published onother phonetic phenomena such as depressor consonants, tone, voice quality,etc., e.g., Traill 1985. Tony also published extensively on the geneticrelationships in Khoisan (or the lack thereof), e.g., Traill 1986, anddocumented the disappearance of the phylum’s constituency, e.g., Traill1996, as well as the languages themselves, e.g., Traill 1994b. One of hisnon-specialist productions was “Extinct South African Khoisan Languages”, aCD documenting the death of Khoisan languages with digitized versions ofthe earliest recordings (Traill 1997). Because of the boycott of SouthAfrica during the apartheid regime, not all of Tony’s publications wereknown as well as they should have been. Nonetheless, among experts in hisvarious fields his work was recognized as always being of the highestquality: fastidious, detailed, and often understated; eventual recognitionwas shown by his Honorary Membership in the Linguistic Society of Americain 1998.

Tony’s Ph.D. and B.A. were awarded by the University of the Witwatersrand(“Wits”), but he was also able to study at the University of Edinburghwhere he earned a master’s degree. Virtually all of his academic career wasspent at Wits, although he did spend a sabbatical year abroad in Germany,and traveled extensively to universities around the world once the ban onSouth Africa was lifted. Tony was instrumental in developing the Center forAfrican Studies at Wits, and although his professorship and chair were inthe Linguistics Department, he remained deeply involved in the Departmentof African Languages.

As a mentor Tony had few peers. He was especially helpful to those who hadbeen disadvantaged by the apartheid system but also to younger students andscholars from abroad. Scholars from around the world corresponded with himand some visited, even when the country was closed. Once the boycott waslifted, many more came to participate in and learn more about his researchprogram, as well as partake of his warm collegiality.

Tony spoke both !Xóõ and Zulu fluently (as well as Afrikaans) and had warmworking and personal relationships with the speakers of these languages, tothe extent such were possible in South Africa. For visiting linguists, ofwhom there were many, there was no greater pleasure than to accompany Tonyon a research trip to the Kalahari and watch him at work (and play) withhis main working group of !Xóõ speakers. Tony had a deep and knowledgeablepassion for the South African countryside. He loved the outdoors and tookgreat pleasure in showing visitors and friends the Khoisan cave drawingshigh up in the Drakensburg. For those who knew him professionally,personally, or both, there is a deep sense of loss and to some extentregret that he was not more widely known and appreciated.

Linguistic Field(s): Not Applicable