- Ilse Lehiste
Ilse Lehiste, president of the LSA in 1980, died after a brief bout with pneumonia on December 25, 2010, at the age of eighty-eight years, eleven months.1 She was a key figure in the history of Linguistics in the United States, leading in the establishment of instrumental phonetics as one of its academic subdisciplines. Ilse's2 accomplishments were enormous and formidable, in a wide range of areas of scholarship and research—instrumental phonetics, historical linguistics, prosody, poetics, Estonian studies, Serbo-Croatian studies, and Germanic philology. (She was also a polyglot, picking up new languages throughout her life, building on the Estonian, German, and Russian of her young days.)
Ilse was born on January 31, 1922, in Tallinn, Estonia. Her life was dramatically changed by World War II. Her brother died in the war, having been conscripted to fight in the Soviet Army, and in 1944, the twenty-two-year-old Ilse fled to Germany with her mother and father as the Soviet Army moved to retake Estonia from the Germans. She left behind her bright future in Estonia and everything she knew, on half an hour's notice. While living in refugee camps, she attended the University of Hamburg, earning a Doctor of Philology in 1948 with a thesis on Old Norse.3 During this period her father died. With the help of the Lutheran church, Ilse and her mother immigrated to the United States in 1949. They initially settled in a small town south of Seattle, Washington, where Ilse's first job was as a dish-washer, and then later she worked as an accompanist in a dance studio.
Ilse taught German as an Associate Professor of Modern Languages at Kansas Wesleyan for one year (1950–51) and at the Detroit Institute of Technology for five years (1951–1956). In 1959, Ilse earned her second doctorate, a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Michigan, and after earning that degree, she continued working there as a Research Associate with Gordon E. Peterson in the department of Speech Communication until 1963. During this period they published their seminal studies on vowel duration (Peterson & Lehiste 1960), 'intrinsic' fundamental frequency (Lehiste & Peterson 1961b), and amplitude variation (Lehiste & Peterson 1961c) in the Peterson and Barney (1952) corpus. It was a great delight to Ilse that in later years the results of these studies could be mentioned as phonetic common knowledge without being cited. The acoustic segmentation criteria that they developed in their study of diphthongs and glides (Lehiste & Peterson 1961a) are still cited as a standard today.
The measurements for these studies, as well as those for her dissertation monograph (Lehiste 1960), were made using one of the few spectrographs then in existence. Decades later, Ilse often described 'the special excitement that the availability of the [End Page 384] spectrograph created—we knew that whatever we were looking at, nobody had seen before. I imagine a biologist might have felt the same way when handed the first microscope' (Beddor & Catford 1999:59).
In 1963, Ilse Lehiste joined the Department of Slavic Languages and Linguistics at the Ohio State University as an Associate Professor. Also in 1963 she published Accent in Serbocroatian, with Pavle Ivić. About a year later, her mother, who had moved to Columbus with her, died. Some acoustic characteristics of dysarthric speech was published by Karger in 1965 (1965a), and Consonant quantity and phonological units in Estonian by Indiana University/Mouton in 1966. In 1965, Ilse was a founding member of the Ohio State Department of Linguistics, and she served as its first chair until 1971. In 1970 she was the director of the Linguistic Society of America's summer institute held at Columbus, and she also taught a course at the institute on 'Suprasegmentals'. During the early period of her tenure at Ohio State, Ilse established a publishing relationship with MIT Press that continued over the next twenty years. The first of her books with MIT was a collection of seminal articles on acoustic phonetics (Readings in acoustic phonetics, 1967). This was soon followed by her monograph on Suprasegmentals (1970), which was based on her summer institute course. Later books published...