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John H. Muyskens
LSA Minutes

Memorial to
John Henry Muyskens

John Henry Muyskens, Associate Professor Emeritus of Phoentics in the Department of Speech, died December 10, 1957, at 70 years of age. A member of the Faculty for 37 years, Professor Muyskens received three degrees from the University of Michigan -- the Bachelor of Science in 1913, the Master of Science in 1919, and the Doctor of Science in 1925. He attended Calvin College, Grand Rapids, for three years before entering the University, and returned to Calvin to teach French and German from 1914 to 1917.

His teaching career was interrupted by World War I, during which he was engaged as a liaison interpreter for the War Work Council which coordinated American and French activities. His distinguished services were recognized by the French Government in 1919 by the award of the Medaille Militaire.

Following the war he taught phonetics for one year at the Kennedy School of Missions, Hartford Theological Seminary Foundation. In 1920 he joined the Faculty of the University of Michigan where he served successively as an Instructor in physiology, in French, and in phonetics. In 1931 he became Associate Professor of Phonetics in the Department of Speech and General Linguistics. In 1946 he received the honorary degree of L.H.D. from Defiance College. The Graf O'Hara Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars cited him as Ann Arbor's Outstanding Citizen of 1947. He was granted Emeritus status by the Board of Regents on September 23, 1957.

His professional contributions were made in the fields of experimental and applied phonetics. In 1929 he established the laboratory for biolinguistic studies in 2006 Angell Hall, where for many years he carried on his teaching and research in the instrumental analysis of speech and the study of speech disorders, utilizing his early training in physiology, anatomy, and psychology. His interest in the biological sciences led directly to the establishment in the Medical School of the first dissection course in human anatomy taught specifically for students of speech pathology and phonetics. In 1937 he organized and took charge of the Speech Clinic of the Institute for Human Adjustment and directed its activities for several years.

A vigorous critic of classical phonetics, he based much of his work on the great French experimental phoneticians Roussellot and Roudet, and introduced to this country the then relatively novel techniques of palatography which they had developed. From palatographic data he evolved his theories of overlapping movements in Speech articulation and his definition of the "hypha" as the physiological syllable. His broad interests and his creative intelligence frequently led him to the formulation of postulates and theories which were keenly perceptive. However, his interests and abilities did not lie in the direction of rigorous scientific proof, and thus many of his ideas still await validation.

Professor Muyskens stood six feet four inches in height, and in health weighed nearly 240 pounds. His imposing stature, his rich bass voice, his remarkable fluency in lecture and conversation, and his keen use of epigram and anecdote all contributed to his reputation as a popular teacher. He had a great warmth of personality, an intense interest in people, and a penetrating insight into their problems.

He and Professor Clarence L. Meader worked together for over thirty years to establish concepts of the biological bases of speech and language which were presented in 1950 in The Handbook of Bio-linguistics, Part One, Section A. Part II, General Semantics, a Guide to Better Living, is now in the hands of the publisher.

Professor Muyskens is survived by his wife, the former Mary Groen, whom he married in 1913, and two daughters, Thieda of Ann Arbor, and Florence of Los Angeles, California. His colleagues express to them their regret at the passing of a man who inspired his associates and a host of students by the geniality and warmth of his personality and the distinctive quality of his teaching.

Clarence L. Meader
William P. Halstead
H. Harlan Bloomer, Chairman