Julian Talbot Pring 1913 - 2001

(Adapted from the obituary at p.29 of The Phonetician No. 83 of 2001)

Julian Talbot Pring was born in London on the 28th of October 1913. He graduated in European languages at Oxford in 1936 and then obtained a teaching diploma. Apparently he first envisaged a career as a schoolmaster, but he instead became absorbed into Daniel Jones’s Department of Phonetics at University College London. With the outbreak of the Second World War he took part in the English teaching work organised by the British Council in successively the Balkans, Greece and Egypt in so doing joining a succession of University-College-trained phoneticians including David Abercrombie, Peter MacCarthy and Roger Kingdon. He was hurried back from Cairo from his Royal Air Force post at the urgent request of Professor Daniel Jones for whom he then resumed teaching at UCL before the end of the 1944/45 session. He was appointed Reader in Phonetics in 1964.

His interest in English as a foreign language remained throughout his career resulting in two modest but admirable little books. The first was Colloquial English Pronunciation (Longmans 1959) a concise 83 pages which curiously showed approval of one or two very old-fashioned usages such as often rhyming with orphan and lord distinguished from laud by having a diphthong — features of his own pronunciation. The other was a joint work with Cologne university anglicist Rudolf Germer, A New English Phonetic Reader (Lensing, Dortmund 1962, 64pp). This incorporated a successful handling of intonation matters with its simple but effective indications of pitch features.

His quite numerous contributions to the IPA periodical Le Maître Phonétique were also mostly EFL orientated though exceptions included a Specimen of the Dialect of Naples in 1950 and a 1955 review of a book by Simon C. Boyanus on Russian pronunciation. The last of them (1976 pp 92-5) was a slightly waspish attack on those who were becoming increasingly inclined to take the view that EFL learners’ use of “intrusive” /r/ had no need to be discouraged. He had strong views on what should be considered “standard” English usages, on matters like English spelling which he insisted it was “wrong to deplore” and he declared that “unless the description of a language can be used to facilitate the learning of it, it is not, in my opinion worth having”.

Although his interests encompassed a wide range of European languages, his chief writings were on  modern Greek and its pronunciation, beginning in 1950 with his Grammar of Modern Greek on a Phonetic Basis and culminating in his admirable Oxford Dictionary of Modern Greek (1982) a standard work which has steadily remained in print.

He stayed in the UCL department throughout his whole career except for the academic session 1967-8 which he spent in the USA as a visiting professor at the West Washington State College. Otherwise he would only undertake the occasional lecturing engagement for the British Council. One of these was to Norway where he was particularly appreciated.

He was a fastidious and reserved person always conservatively dressed. He was very well liked by his colleagues and students. Those from abroad often found that he struck them as their idea of the perfect English gentleman. While working at UCL he lived with his charming Greek wife Eleni in some style in an elegant Knightsbridge flat which enabled him to be more hospitable than most of his colleagues who lived far less centrally. In retirement they made their home in Athens where she also died only a few days after him.