Beatrice Honikman (1905-1997)

(Adapted from the obituary at pp 23-24 of The Phonetician No. 83 of 2001)

Beatrice Honikman, known familiarly as “Trixie”, was born in South Africa at Cape Town on the 28th of September 1905 and died there in 1997. She graduated at her native city in 1926 and followed up her BA with an MA in the field of the phonetics of African languages. Then in 1928 she made her way to University College London to study in Daniel Jones’s Department of Phonetics, also spending some time at the University of Hamburg. Thereafter she returned to her home university where she held first an assistantship and then a full lectureship in phonetics. But she had conceived a great affection for London where she returned obtaining by the late thirties a post at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies under J. R. Firth.

Jones had a high opinion of her, awarding her the unusual accolade of thanking her for “helpful suggestions” etc in the acknowledgements of no less than three of his books, and having her edit for publication a manuscript left behind at her sudden death at the end of 1937 by Jones’s much venerated close colleague Lilias Armstrong which came out in 1940 as The Phonetic and Tonal Structure of Kikuyu. She published very little on her own account but is certainly remembered for her seminal article on “Articulatory Settings” which appeared in 1964 in In Honour of Daniel Jones edited by D. Abercrombie and others.

The last stage of her career was spent from 1955 to 1971 at the University of Leeds Department of Phonetics. She had wide linguistic and phonetic interests and long maintained her fascination with African languages. She was outstanding for her whipcrack productions of African click sounds that seemed to make any other teacher’s puny by comparison.

She got on very well with colleagues and students alike all of whom respected her dedication and liveliness. She had a good sense of humour and was a “fantastic mimic”. She was very interested in music and ballet and especially in mime. She was no homemaker, preferring to live in small hotels or hostels, and she never married but this is not to say that she wasn’t a perfectly sociable person. She eventually used to spend her winters in Cape Town and her summers in her beloved London. One of her closest friends particularly remembers an outing on her 90th birthday she made with great vigour to show her the newly reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe theatre on the South Bank. She is remembered with affection by all who knew her.