G. Nick Clements, 1940-2009

I’m sad to report that Nick Clements passed away in Chatham, Massachusetts, on August 30, just over a month shy of his 69th birthday (according to his Wikipedia entry). Beth Hume wrote an obituary for him on LINGUIST List, which I reproduce in full further below. Beth co-organized a symposium on tones and features in honor of Nick in June; the speaker list was a veritable who’s who of phonology, of which Nick was also of course a prominent member. He will be missed.

It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of G. Nick Clements, who died on Sunday, August 30, 2009 in Chatham, Massachusetts from cancer.

Nick Clements’s career as a linguist spanned nearly forty years, during which time he contributed to our understanding of phonetics, of phonological theory, and of a range of languages of Africa and Europe. After receiving his PhD from the School of African and Oriental Studies in 1973 for a study of Ewe syntax, he spent nine years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, working first at MIT and then at Harvard. He moved to Cornell University in 1982, where he was professor of Linguistics and director of the phonetics laboratory. In 1992, he became Directeur de Recherche at the CNRS in Paris, France, which became the home of his work from that time forward. He was an invited professor and lecturer around the world, and taught at many linguistics institutes both in the United States and abroad. Nick’s contributions to the field of linguistics were innovative and influential, and an inspiration to many. Guided by keen insights and a rigorous scientific method, his search for the truth about aspects of language advanced our understanding of the categorization and organization of phonological features, of African syntax and tone, of vowel harmony systems, of the phonetics-phonology interface, among many others topics. His studies were always the epitome of careful research and elegant argumentation.

Those among us who were honored to have been associated with Nick will forever remember him as a man of tremendous humility, a sincere and careful listener, and a creative thinker with the ability to masterfully synthesize ideas and data so as to bring clarity to some long-standing problem. His
kind and fun-loving spirit touched many, but none more so than the family he loved: his life partner, Annie Rialland, his children, William and CĂ©lia, and his brothers, sisters and their families.

I know that I speak for so many in saying that it was an honor and a privilege to have been associated with such a great man.

Elizabeth Hume
Professor and Chair
Department of Linguistics
The Ohio State University

[ Update, 9/17: a memorial website is here, as announced on LINGUIST List. ]

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