Kenneth N. Stevens, 1924 - 2013. A life dedicated to research in speech communication and teaching

August 23, 2013

On the news of the death of Professor Emeritus Kenneth N. Stevens, Department Head Anantha Chandrakasan shared the following message with his EECS faculty colleagues. Please read also the MIT News Office Aug. 23, 2013 obituary by Larry Hardesty titled: "Kenneth Stevens, professor emertitus in EECS, dies at 89. Stevens' pioneering work as the originator of the quantal theory of speech helped earn him the National Medal of Science."

Message from Anantha P. Chandrakasan, EECS Department Head:

Dear Colleagues,

Professor Stevens studied engineering physics at the University of Toronto, earning his BASc and MASc in 1945 and 1948, respectively. He earned his ScD from MIT in 1952 under Professor Leo Beranek. His thesis committee members included J.C.R. Licklider and Walter Rosenblith. As a new member of the MIT faculty in 1954, Professor Stevens joined Professor Amar Bose in teaching the department’s course in circuit theory. He recalled this experience on the occasion of his retirement, in 2007, noting: “It touched my life — a lot. He was really an excellent teacher”. Professors Stevens and Bose also collaborated to write a new book, “Introductory Network Theory”. His 1998 book "Acoustic Phonetics" is widely regarded as the definitive volume in the field.

Professor Stevens devoted his research life to acoustics and studying the fundamental roots of speech and language. He developed and headed the Speech Communication Group in RLE, a group still active today. Professor Stevens became widely known for his contributions to the fields of phonology, acoustic phonetics, speech perception and production. This work led to the development of the Quantal Theory of Speech – examining how the physics of the vocal tract influences the set of possible contrastive sounds in human languages.

In 2004, Professor Stevens and Gunnar Fant were the first winners of the IEEE James L. Flanagan Speech and Audio Processing Award. Professor Stevens was also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Professor Stevens had a tremendous impact on the department and was a wonderful colleague. His work will continue to make an impact, not only through his writings but also through his many students and collaborators. We will greatly miss him.


Aantha P. Chandrakasan
Joseph F. and Nancy P. Keithley Professor of Electrical Engineering
Department Head, MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science