Professor Ken Stevens passed away on Aug. 19 in Clackamas, Ore., from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 89.
Professor Kenneth N. Stevens is a principal investigator in the Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He received his B.A.Sc. and M.A.Sc. in engineering physics from the University of Toronto in 1945 and 1948 respectively, and his Sc.D. in electrical engineering from MIT in 1952. He then was on the research staff of RLE until he joined the MIT faculty in 1954.
How people move the tongue, lips, and other articulators fast enough to accomplish speech is one of the classical puzzles of speech science. Professor Stevens has shown that many of the distinctions between speech sounds utilize special non-linear relations between articulation and acoustic output that enable speakers to produce correct sounds without having to hit all of the individual articulator targets with particular accuracy. In this way, he has unraveled an important part of the mystery that shrouds our ability to produce and understand speech.
Professor Stevens has pioneered contributions to the theory, mathematical methods and analysis of acoustics in speech production, leading to the modern principles of speech science. His theoretical work on acoustic properties of speech sounds that comprise the linguistic elements of language has led to the contemporary foundations of our understanding of speech communication. His theoretical work on acoustic invariance has defined unifying principles that have integrated major portions of acoustic phonetics, phonology, speech science and linguistics.
Professor Stevens is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His numerous awards include the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest award for scientific achievement.