Peter Nielsen Ladefoged – Patron Saint of September, 2019

September is upon us, dear friends, and this being the first (full) weekend of that month, allow me to introduce you to Professor Peter Nielsen Ladefoged!

Born on the 17th of September, 1925, Professor Ladefoged was a British linguist and phonetician, whose works on phonetics is highly valued in the linguistic community. His most famous work is perhaps that which he performed at the phonetics laboratory at UCLA, which he established in 1962. His work closely revolved around the massive task of listening to, and describing, every sound used in spoken human language, which he estimated at 900 consonants and 200 vowels (!!!). This research eventually became the basis of much of the volume “The Sounds of the World’s Languages”, co-authored with Professor Ian Maddieson, and published in 1996. This book is based on data from about 400 (!) languages and describes the contrasting phonetic categories, meaning the ways in which phonemic sounds may differ in human languages.

His book “A course in phonetics” is a common introductory text to phonetics (you might even have read it – I know I’ve used it on occasion), and with his great emphasis on the importance of considering the full diversity of human speech sounds, there can be no doubt calling Professor Ladefoged “the father of the field of linguistic phonetics” is an accurate description and a well-deserved title.

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