Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Ian Catford

I was sorry to see that Ian Catford had died. Here’s an obituary.
He was 92, so quite a bit older than me and presumably than nearly everyone else reading this. I didn’t know him well, though I did meet him briefly once or twice. But it was his method of teaching the subject, enshrined in his book A practical introduction to phonetics, that was a great inspiration.
He rightly emphasized how important it is for students of phonetics to learn how to actually recognize and produce a wide range of speech sounds. So-called phoneticians who can’t, won’t or daren’t actually attempt to make the sounds of all sorts of foreign languages are missing out on an important element of the subject. Sitting in a lab measuring formants, or cogitating about phonological systems and rules, is all very well: but it’s not enough.
When asked to give advice to linguistics students, Ian said, “Don't neglect to acquire the phonetic skills – including, or in particular, articulatory phonetics. Students should learn to perceive and produce everything.”
Hear, hear!
Requiescat in pace.


  1. :Adds to wishlist:

    Thank you, this sounds like an excellent place to start - once I get around to it ...

  2. Hear, hear from here too. On more than one occasion I've thought of a really neat way to teach students how to produce particular sounds, only to find it's in Catford.

  3. It is a matter of deep sadness to me, too, to know that we've lost another "true" phonetician who can tell us what phonetics is all about and how a phonetician should be. I'm a firm believer that no one who does not have the ability (or make efforts to acquire the ability) to "recognize and produce a wide range of speech sounds" can't call himself/herself a "phonetician" or a "phonologist". I was very much looking forward to more books and articles by Catford coming out...

  4. I must confess I've worked on enough spectrograms in my lifetime. I learnt a lot from his work on Caucasian phonetics and phonology. What Ian Catford particularly chastised me for was my use of X-ray motion films. We were never in the same place at the same time, so I never got the chance to talk it over with him eye to eye. Now it's too late.

  5. I never net him but I heard a whole lot of good stuff about him. I am sad to know that a man this wise and helpful has passed away, but at over 90 years traveling this lands he deserves to rest.