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He was Professor of Phonetics at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he taught from 1962 to 1991. His book A Course in Phonetics is a common introductory text in phonetics, and The Sounds of the World's Languages (co-authored with Ian Maddieson) is widely regarded as a standard phonetics reference. Ladefoged also wrote several books on the phonetics of African languages. Prior to UCLA, he was a lecturer at the universities of Edinburgh, Scotland (1953-59, 1960-1) and Ibadan, Nigeria (1959-60).
Ladefoged was involved with the phonetics laboratory at UCLA, which he established in 1962. He also was interested in listening to and describing every sound used in spoken human language, which he estimated at 900 consonants and 200 vowels. This research formed the basis of much of The Sounds of the World's Languages. In 1966 Ladefoged moved from the UCLA English Department to join the newly established Linguistics Department.
While at UCLA, Ladefoged was hired as a consultant on the movie My Fair Lady. He wrote the transcriptions that can be seen in Professor Higgins's notebook, and his voice was used in the scenes where Higgins describes vowel pronunciation.
Ladefoged married Jenny MacDonald in 1953, a marriage which lasted over 50 years. They had three children: Lise Friedman, a bookseller; Thegn Ladefoged, archaeologist and professor of anthropology at University of Auckland; and Katie Weiss, attorney and public defender, residing in Nashville, Tennessee. He also had five grandchildren Zelda Ladefoged, Ethan Friedman, Amy Friedman, Joseph Weiss, and Catherine Weiss.
Ladefoged died on 24 January 2006 at the age of 80 in hospital in London, England after a research trip to India. He was on his way home to Los Angeles, California from his research trip.
1953–55: Assistant Lecturer in Phonetics, University of Edinburgh
1955–59: Lecturer in Phonetics, University of Edinburgh
Ladefoged (1962). The nature of vowel quality. Monograph supplement to Revista do Laboratório de Fonética Experimental da Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Coimbra (Journal of Experimental Phonetics Laboratory of the Faculty of Arts, University of Coimbra).
Ladefoged (1962). Elements of acoustic phonetics. University of Chicago Press. ISBN0-226-46764-3. Paperback edition 1971. Translation into Japanese, Taishukan Publishing Company, 1976. Second edition, with added chapters on computational phonetics 1996.
Ladefoged (1964). A phonetic study of west African languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University. ISBN0-521-06963-7. Reprinted 1968.
Ladefoged (1967). Three areas of experimental phonetics. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN0-19-437110-7.