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William J. Gedney
LSA Minutes

William J. Gedney

Professor Emeritus William J. Gedney, a giant in the field of Thai/Tai language and literature, died Sunday, November 14, in his home in Ann Arbor, MI. Born April 4, 1915, in Orchards, Washington, Professor Gedney began his academic career as a high-school English teacher in Oregon and Washington after graduating magna cum laude from Whitman College in 1935.

Drafted in World War II, he was assigned to the Army Language Unit in New York City, where he began his study of Thai while at the same time studying Sanskrit and linguistics at Yale. After graduation from Yale in 1947 he went to Thailand, where he continued his Thai language studies and worked as a translator. During this time he built a large, wide-ranging Thai collection of over 14,000 items, which he donated to the University of Michigan in 1975.

In 1960, Gedney began teaching linguistics at the University of Michigan. For the next two decades, he engaged in extensive fieldwork on the Tai language family, seeking out speakers of remote dialects in Southeast Asia and southern China. The results of these decades of research were published in eight lengthy volumes by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Michigan. In 1980 he retired from the Department of Linguistics, where he had served as chair from 1972-75, and then in 1981 he was named professor emeritus of linguistics. Long active in the American Oriental Society, he served as vice president in 1981 and president in 1982. He was also an active member of the Linguistic Society of America, the Association for Asian Studies, the Siam Society, the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society, and the International Sino-Tibetan Conference.

Professor Gedney served as an inspiration to his students as well as to scholars in a variety of disciplines, all of whom greatly appreciated his knowledge, generosity, and sense of humor.