Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Shigeru Takebayashi, 22 Sept 1926 - 10 March 2011

I was sorry to hear that Shigeru Takebayashi (竹林滋), the eminent Japanese phonetician and lexicographer, had died earlier this year.

He was the author of a well-regarded Japanese book on English phonetics (1982, second edition with Hiroko Saito 1998). He was also the editor of a number of Japanese-English dictionaries, including the Pocket Kenkyusha Japanese Dictionary and the Kenkyusha Japanese-English Learner’s Dictionary. An autographed copy of the latter sits on the bookshelf next to my desk. It lists the headwords in romanized alphabetical order, which is exactly what I want. It also supplies the accent pattern for each headword, information not otherwise easily found in English.

My own dealings with Prof. Takebayashi date back to 1990. Shortly after the first edition of my LPD had come out, the publishers arranged for me to meet him in Tokyo. The idea was that he would write an introduction-cum-explanation in Japanese for my dictionary, to be bundled with it in a slip case. To do this he needed to ask me some questions about it.

Our meeting was almost like a PhD viva, with me as the candidate and Prof. Takebayashi as the examiner. He asked me a series of searching, nay penetrating, questions about how I had compiled the dictionary, how it was arranged, what was included and how the transcription system worked. I answered to the best of my ability.

The upshot of this interrogation was excellent. The acuity of his questioning and his understanding of the lexicographical and other problems involved gave me great confidence in him, and presumably the quality of my answers gave him confidence in me. His booklet duly appeared accompanying the version of LPD sold in Japan.

Issue 41 of Lexicon, the journal published in Tokyo by the Iwasaki Linguistic Circle, is dedicated to his memory. There is also an article about him in the Japanese Wikipedia.

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