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 Obituary | Arthur S. Abramson | 1925-2017
Arthur S. Abramson, Profes- sor Emeritus of Linguistics and founding department chair at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, Emeritus Senior Scientist at Haskins Laboratories, and a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), died on Decem- ber 15, 2017, at the age of 92.
After serving as an X-ray technician in World War II, Ar- thur entered Columbia University, New York, as a graduate student in linguistics. He paused his studies to spend three years in Thailand on a Fulbright grant, teaching English and linguistics and learning the Thai language. When he returned to Columbia, he enrolled in a course taught by Franklin Cooper, president of Haskins Laboratories, New York (now in New Haven, Connecticut), beginning an af- filiation with Haskins Laboratories that would last for more than six decades. During his early time at Haskins Labora- tories, Arthur was instrumental in a project to record X- ray motion pictures of speakers of various languages (e.g., and arabicxrayfilm). For his doctoral dissertation, Arthur un- dertook a study of the vowels and tones of standard Thai, presenting acoustic data and conducting perceptual experi- ments using synthetic speech.
Shortly after finishing his doctorate, Arthur began a long- term collaboration with Leigh Lisker of Haskins Labora- tories and the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Together, Arthur and Leigh would go on to coauthor nu- merous papers and presentations on laryngeal function and voicing (e.g., Lisker et al., 1969), the most well-known being their 1964 paper in the journal Word (Lisker and Abramson, 1964). This paper introduced the acoustic measure of voice onset time (VOT) to describe the nature of stop consonant voicing distinctions. Their data showed that for many lan- guages, VOT effectively separates the voicing categories in production. Subsequent work showed that VOT is an ef- fective perceptual cue for voicing distinctions as well. VOT has become a very widely used measure of stop consonant voicing, and this seminal paper was recognized in a special session, “Forty Years of VOT,” at the ASA’s 147th meeting in New York in 2004. This session, which included both invited and contributed submissions, showed how researchers con-
tinue to employ VOT to study aspects of speech production and perception across languages and in healthy speakers, clinical populations (persons with motor speech disorders and hearing impairment), multilingual speakers, and chil- dren. A recent paper (Abramson and Whalen, 2017) provid- ed a retrospective assessment of VOT definitions, measure- ment criteria, and cross-linguistic use, and a special issue is forthcoming in the Journal of Phonetics dedicated to contem- porary research using VOT.
Until the end of his life, Arthur also continued to study as- pects of Thai (e.g., Tingsabadh and Abramson, 1993) along with minority dialects of Southeast Asian languages, with a particular focus on laryngeal distinctions of tone and voice quality. In 2013, at the age of 88, Arthur gave a paper on voice registers in Mon languages at the 166th meeting of the ASA in San Francisco.
Arthur remained active at Haskins Laboratories until shortly before his death. He is remembered as an assiduous scientist, a generous and committed colleague and mentor, and a true mensch.
Selected References by Arthur S. Abramson
Abramson, A. S. (1962). The Vowels and Tones of Standard Thai: Acoustical Measurements and Experiments. Publication 20, Indiana University Research Center in Anthropology, Folklore, and Linguistics, Bloomington.
Abramson, A. S., and Whalen, D. H. (2017). Voice onset time (VOT) at 50: Theoretical and practical issues in measuring voicing distinctions. Journal of Phonetics 63, 75-86.
Lisker, L., and Abramson, A. S. (1964). A cross-language study of voicing in initial stops: Acoustical measurements. Word 20, 384-422.
Lisker, L., Abramson, A. S., Cooper, F. S., and Schvey, M. H. (1969). Transil- lumination of the larynx in running speech. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 45, 1544-1546.
Tingsabadh, M. R. K., and Abramson, A. S. (1993). Thai. Journal of the Inter- national Phonetic Association 23(1), 24-28.
Written by:
Laura L. Koenig, Email: Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Adelphi University, Garden City, New York, and Haskins Laboratories, New Haven, Connecticut
D. H. Whalen, Email:
Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, City Universi- ty of New York Graduate Center, New York, New York, and Haskins Laboratories, New Haven, Connecticut
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