To appear in The Phonetician

T. F. Mitchell

The former Head of the Department of Linguistics and Phonetics at Leeds University, Emeritus Professor T. F. Mitchell, died on the 1st of January 2007 at the age of 87.

Born in Devon on the 3rd of May 1919 Terry Mitchell proceeded from Torquay Grammar School on the coast of southwestern England to University College London to study French and Spanish in which he graduated in 1940 with first class honours. His interest in linguistics was no doubt considerably fostered by his contacts with the UCL Department of Phonetics. The perfection of his spoken French was a matter of remark.

He served in the British Army for six years in India, Burma and the Middle East rising to the rank of major. After the war he returned to London to join the School of Oriental and African Studies, where J. R. Firth appointed him to a lectureship. He gained a remarkable reputation in the two following decades working on a wide variety of languages including Urdu, Sindhi, Berber and very notably Arabic.

The authorities at SOAS had, after Firth's retirement in 1956, been slow to award Mitchell the chair he richly deserved so that it wasn't quite a complete surprise when in 1964 he accepted the Leeds offer of the Professorship of Contemporary English within their very large School of English though his work in that field had been relatively minor and indeed was to remain so. In fact by 1966 he had persuaded Leeds to let him convert his chair into English Language and General Linguistics and by 1971 to form a new department separate from the School of English. In 1978 this was amalgamated with the older and larger Department of Phonetics to establish the combined Department of Linguistics and Phonetics which still survives. He remained head of it until his retirement at the age of sixty-one in 1980 when he moved back to his native southwest at first to the Isle of Wight and later to places in Hampshire and Dorset.

He led a busy life with much travel abroad besides keeping a pied à terre in France. In addition to his various publications he was editor for fifteen years of the respected journal Archivum Linguisticum. His latter time at Leeds was very much taken up with an ambitious description of Educated Spoken Arabic in Egypt and the Levant. He was very deeply interested in written as well as spoken Arabic, among his many publications including a handsome book on its beautiful scripts. He also collaborated with one of his staff on a book on Spoken Arabic in the Teach Yourself series.

He was a very approachable and convivial person who entered enthusiastically into the social side of his contacts with his students and staff and enjoyed, with his devoted and lively-minded wife Brit, entertaining friends in his home. She survived him, along with their children and grandchildren, though only for a short while.