J. C. Catford

(For The Phonetician)

J. C. Catford, known as Ian, was born in Edinburgh in 1917. He died in Seattle in October 2009. His contribution to phonetic studies was one of indisputable greatness. He early acquired an intense interest in the subject in his teens publishing in Le Maître Phonétique at 18 but his career got fully underway when he studied with Daniel Jones, Lilias Armstrong, Hélène Coustenoble and Stephen Jones of the University College London Department. He had working associations of too great a variety to detail adequately but including various spells notably at the University of Edinburgh where he worked initially on the Linguistic Survey of Scotland and later was appointed as the first Director of its newly founded School of Applied Linguistics.

From 1939 to 1946 he was employed in the Overseas Service of the British Council in Greece, Egypt and Palestine. He even in London did some work as an actor and taught phonetics at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. It was a witness to his articulatory skills that David Abercrombie, when he gave a BBC radio talk in which he included a transcription made in the eighteenth century of a speech from Shakespeare's Hamlet spoken by the great actor David Garrick, he invited Catford to perform it.

He did very important work on the phonetics of Caucasian languages, Applied Linguistics and instrumental and taxonomic phonetics. He was very deeply concerned with producing a systematic universal phonetic taxonomy, and also with the aerodynamic aspects of speech and with the development of proprioceptive insights into its motor aspects. These were the principal topics of his long-gestated perhaps most important book Fundamental Problems in Phonetics published in 1977. From 1964 to his retirement in 1985 he was at the University of Michigan where he was the Director of its English Language Institute. He always continued to travel very widely in search of his data. His list of publications was far too long to itemise here. His very last book was the very aptly named Practical Introduction to Phonetics (1988 2nd ed 2001). He was well liked personally and hugely admired as a teacher.