In recognition of her scholarship, her contributions to the Linguistic Society of America, and the charismatic and caring person that we all knew her to be, we are pleased to publish this tribute to our beloved colleague, teacher, and friend, Victoria A. Fromkin. 2019 marks the 40th anniversary since Victoria Fromkin (known to everyone as “Vicki”) was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the LSA (1979-1983), the first woman to hold that position. Deeply committed to the goals of the Society, Vicki was immediately thereafter elected as LSA Vice-President (1984) and President (1985). During her long career of service to the Society, to the profession, and to her home institution, Vicki was known for her dedication to equality and fought hard to expand opportunities for everyone she encountered, especially students.  It was therefore fitting, after her passing, that the Society enacted The Victoria A. Fromkin Lifetime Service Award “for individuals who have performed extraordinary service to the Society and the discipline throughout their career.”

After achieving a B.A. in economics at UC Berkeley (1944), Vicki returned to Los Angeles, engaged in political activity (to the end she remained proud of being a socialist) and other pursuits before entering the Interdepartmental Program in Linguistics at UCLA, where she wrote a dissertation in the area of instrumental phonetics directed by Peter Ladefoged. After receiving her PhD in 1965, she was hired in the Department of Speech (1966), but quickly transferred to the newly established Department of Linguistics (1967), where she swiftly moved up the ranks (associate professor in 1969, full professor in 1972). While her doctoral research involved the use of electromyography to measure the muscular activity in producing labials stops (see Fromkin 1966, Fromkin & Ladefoged 1966), besides phonetics, her future work would bear importantly on issues in phonology, psycholinguistics, and language and brain. Her landmark monograph A Phonology of Akan (1968) written with Paul Schachter applied the latest ideas of generative phonology to the description of an important West African tone language. This was followed by work on phonetic features (Fromkin 1970, 1976a), distinctive feature theory (Fromkin 1972), and tone (Fromkin 1976b, 1978).

                             Photo by John Ohala

It is however Victoria Fromkin’s work in psycholinguistics that she is most known for, especially the study of slips of the tongue and other speech errors (Fromkin 1971, 1973, 1988). Always interested in the philosophical and historical foundations of our field (she regularly taught a course on the history of linguistics), Vicki definitely came down on the Chomskyan side of the rationalist-empiricist debate, believing strongly in the “psychological reality” of the abstract constructs in generative theory—for which she was determined to find psycholinguistic evidence. For this she developed a collection of over 10,000 speech errors, some from the literature, but many more from her own observations and from reports she received from everyone who wanted to be part of her energetic enterprise. It was not unusual for Vicki to be sitting alert in the front row of a colloquium or seminar with her little notebook ready to jot down anyone’s speech errors. One example which she loved concerned an error in pronouncing the name of Chancellor of UCLA, Chuck Young [tʃʌk jʌŋ] as “Chunk Yug” [tʃʌŋk jʌg]. To Vicki this provided evidence that English [ŋ] should be analyzed as biphonemic /ng/: In the error the nasal is “shifted” onto the preceding word leaving behind the /g/. In other words, Sapir (1925: 49) was right! Her commitment to psycholinguistic validation extended also to aphasia, atypical language development, and the mind/brain/language interface in general (Fromkin 1987, 1997). Along with her student, Susan Curtiss, she was an original member of the team working on the Genie case. Vicki would ultimately be the first nonmedical person to become the chair of the board of governors of the Academy of Aphasia.

A group of current and past Secretary-Treasurers
gathered at the LSA Annual Meeting in 1999

L to R: Arthur Abramson, Vicki Fromkin, Sally McConnell-Genet,
Margaret Reynolds (Executive Secretary), Elizabeth Traugott,
Thomas Sebeok, and Terence (Terry) Langendoen

Aside from her scholarship, Victoria Fromkin was known quite well beyond UCLA as an award-winning teacher. Her introductory text An introduction to language (Fromkin & Rodman 1974) developed from a lower division course which grew to attract several hundred UCLA students every quarter is now in its 11th edition (with Nina Hyams) and has been read by more than a million people worldwide. Her decision to edit a more advanced introduction to linguistic theory consisting of chapters written by her UCLA colleagues (Fromkin 2000) highlights both her love for teaching and her loyalty to her home institution, where she served as chair (1973-1976) and Dean of the Graduate Division and Vice-Chancellor for Graduate Programs (1979-1989). For many Vicki Fromkin was UCLA, and there is no place where she was more loved. As Edward Keenan, the chair of linguistics at the time of her death wrote, Vicki “was generous, compassionate, warm, feisty, dynamic, candid, and above all, concerned.” We at the LSA also observed her charisma, inexhaustible energy, and generosity—her willingness to go out of her way to help others. We are so pleased to recognize her many contributions to the field and to the Linguistic Society of America.

-- Authored by Larry Hyman, in collaboration with Sally McConnell-Ginet, Elizabeth Traugott and Margaret Thomas


Cited references

Fromkin, Victoria A. 1966. Neuro-muscular specification of linguistic units. Language & Speech 9.170-199.

Fromkin, Victoria A. 1970. The concept of “naturalness” in universal phonetic theory. Glossa 4.29-45.

Fromkin, Victoria A. 1971. The non-anomalous nature of anomalous utterances. Language 47.27-52.

Fromkin, Victoria A. 1972. Tone features and tone rules. Studies in African Linguistics 3.47-76.

Fromkin, Victoria A. (ed.) 1973. Speech errors as linguistic evidence. The Hague: Mouton.

Fromkin, Victoria A. 1976a. Some questions regarding universal phonetics and phonetic representations. In A. Julliand (ed.), Linguistic studies offered to Joseph Greenberg on his sixtieth birthday. Studia Linguistica et Philologica 4.365-380. Saratoga: Anma Libri.

Fromkin, Victoria A. 1976b. A note on tone and the abstractness controversy. Studies in African Linguistics, Supplement 6, 47-62.

Fromkin, Victoria A. (ed.) 1978. Tone: A linguistic survey. New York: Academic Press.

Fromkin, Victoria A. 1987. The lexicon: evidence from acquired dyslexia. Language 63.1-22.

Fromkin, Victoria A. 1997. Some thoughts on the brain/mind/language interface. Lingua 100.3-27.

Fromkin, Victoria A. (ed.) 2000. Linguistics: An introduction to linguistic theory. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, Inc.

Fromkin, Victoria A. & Peter Ladefoged. 1966. Electromyography in speech research. Phonetica 15.219-242.

Fromkin, Victoria A. & Robert Rodman. 1974. An introduction to Language. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Fromkin, Victoria A. 1988. Grammatical aspects of speech errors. In F. Newmeyer (ed.), Linguistics: Cambridge Survey, 117-138. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fromkin, Victoria A. & Paul Schachter. 1968. A phonology of Akan: Akuapem, Asante, Fante. Working Papers in Phonetics 9. Los Angeles: Department of Linguistics, UCLA.

Sapir, Edward. 1925. Sound patterns in language. Language 1.37-51.