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Category: In Memoriam

In Memoriam: Piet Westendorp

Tragic news reached me today through the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering. Piet Westendorp has passed away, much too soon, on november 19.

He was a great scholar, writer, and allround human being, who gave me and many other students a lot of support. He shared his great experience as willingly as his many views on a world of topics. As an example, he made a wonderful analysis of the painting Victory Boogie Woogie, together with Willem van den Hoed. He also wrote Open here: the art of instructional design with Paul Mijksenaar, which brought him world fame. A more recent book was Interface Design & Document Design.

We shared an interest in illustrations of pointing gestures and of the movement in gestures. He specifically collected illustrations of gestures to study the arrows used in instructional images. It was one of those many things that Piet was very enthusiastic about. He loved the arrows in the Gebarenwoordenboek voor kinderen.

Pictures of SLN signs that had ´lovely arrows´, according to Piet. (source)

Piet worked at the TU Delft and the TU Eindhoven, but I like to think he worked as an independent ´free thinker´. He seemed to effortlessly combine a very pragmatic attitute towards the world of research with a passion for ideas. As a senior figure at our department he always reached out to newcomers. Through his example he inspired people to keep an open mind, and stay young. To my memory, at least, Piet will always be a generous, brilliant, and somewhat rebellious boy. Provocative and curious. He will be sorely missed.

His page at the TU/e
In memoriam at STIC (Studiekring Technische Informatie en Communicatie)
Tributes at InfoD-Cafe
Obituary at TU Delft (here)

Update 8 dec ’08: His partner sent a picture of Piet.


Piet Westendorp at the Delta Hotel

Piet Westendorp at the Delta Hotel

In the background you can see the lights of the harbour and the industry at Vlaardingen. We had dinner there with a group of colleagues, at the Delta Hotel, which is a beautiful place in an interesting setting. It was in memory of Piet, who came there regularly. His analysis of Victory Boogie Woogie still managed too trigger a heated discussion…

Update 22 december: Elif sent me this link to a video where Piet talks about his specialty, the design of visual information.

In Memoriam: Edward S. Klima

Edward S. Klima was a linguist who, together with his wife Ursula Bellugi, wrote ‘The Signs of Language‘ (1979). He was one of the first scholars to pay serious attention to sign languages, ASL grammar in particular, and helped to get them recognized as proper languages. He died on Sept. 25 in the La Jolla section of San Diego, at age 77.

Her is his obituary by the NY Times.

I never met Edward Klima, but I greatly enjoyed reading The Signs of Language, which, I think, presaged much of what has been done in sign language research since.

In Memoriam: Arend Harteveld

Arend Harteveld died at the age of 50 years on Sunday 7 September 2008. Much too soon and entirely unexpected he was struck down by an accident in the blood circulation. Arend was a good man and a well respected colleague at Delft University of Technology. My thoughts go out to his family, especially to his mother who lived in with him and whom Arend was taking care of.

Arend Harteveld
Arend Harteveld (source)

Arend contributed to much of the research based on which I hope to write my thesis, and these last years would not have been the same without him. He bore quite a burden in providing, more or less on his own, support to many courses and many labs, a burden he used to share with three colleagues in support who all left as a result of reorganisations. Meanwhile, his main interest was to work on research projects himself, and I found his contributions, both in creating software for experiments or for data analysis and in discussing the design of the experiments, to be very valuable. Arend always quickly grasped the ideas behind experiments and had a knack of pointing out flaws in the experimental design.

Arend also maintained a website with information that shows some of his technical prowess. The website is maintained now by one his radio amateur friends. Arend tells of radio and measuring equipment, chirps, about which he also gave lectures occasionally. From personal experience I know that if a subject gripped him he wouldn’t rest until he understood it fully, which happened during our collaboration for example with capturing response times on a laptop. He tried out several clocks of the PC and its processor and experimentally tested delays and variance in delays. As a radio amateur, a passion he picked up in his teens, he was known as PA1ARE. And now, as his brother in law said during the departure ceremony: “PA1ARE is voorgoed uit de lucht”.

In Memoriam: Washoe

Today I received news that Washoe died at age 42. Washoe was a chimpansee that was taught sign language in order to study the extent to which she would be able to gain language skills.

Washoe talks with Fouts
An impression of Washoe talking with a researcher (source)

Here is more information on attempts to talk with chimps. May she find peace in death. In her life she caused (through no fault of her own) more conflict between humans than most humans.

Update: Here is Carl Schroeder’s tribute (ASL vlog)

In Memoriam: Marcel Marceau, silent yet eloquent

Hero of the ‘once nearly lost art of pantomime’, Marcel Marceau (images), has recently died at the age of 84.

A nice tribute (proceed to many others at YouTube at your leisure)

Mime Marceau was born as Marcel Mangel in Strasbourg, France. He died on September 22 this year. From what I gather of the many tributes and obituaries he was an exceptional mime artist. He is often said to have revitalized the art (even singlehandedly :-) ). That he enjoyed world wide recognition is illustrated by an older movie from a trip to Japan, where he is warmly received. Or possibly the Japanese are simply very fond of pantomime?

It is strange how this art, which is so cherished and admired by some, is unappreciated by others. The wikipedia says: “Of [Marceau’s] summation of the ages of man in the famous Youth, Maturity, Old Age and Death, one critic said: “He accomplishes in less than two minutes what most novelists cannot do in volumes.”.

But if you read research on gesture or sign language, pantomime is often what the writers set themselves off against. It is often used to make distinctions between that which is studied (linguistic or at least semiotic systems) and that which is not studied (mere pantomime). There are also those who seek to distinguish different gestural mechanism in signed discourse (where signers may alternate pantomimic and lexical/grammatical strategies to convey meaning) who talk about ‘gesture versus sign’. To me that is a strange distinction, for even ‘frozen’ (in the sense of Cuxac and Sallandre) lexical signs are gestures in my definition. What would be more appropriate is to label it ‘pantomime versus sign language’, if you wish to indicate a difference in level of conventionality.

I think it could be very productive to study the mechanisms by which mime artists create meaning or express themselves. In countless gesture studies the iconic nature of gesture has been treated (from Tyler (1870) to Mueller (1998)). Each time the same mechanism emerge: meaning is created through imitation of acts, through embodiment, and through molding and sketching in the air. The same appears to be true of pantomime. At least those strategies are certainly used. But there may be more.

Poetry pushes the boundaries of what can be done with spoken or written language. Perhaps mime as an art form pushes the boundaries of what can be done with gesture? I believe sign language poetry and pantomime are brothers in arms. Not only is beauty thus created, but people are shown new ways to express themselves more eloquently in gesture.

Obituaries (among many others) in The Times, and on BBC News.

Update October 2: There is a hilarious Dutch parody of a meeting between Marceau and Ivo Niehe, from Koefnoen (video).

In Memoriam Bernard Tervoort

A founding father of sign language research has died on August 17: Professor Bernard T. M. Tervoort. His 1953 dissertation at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) was titled ‘Structural analysis of visual language use in a group of deaf children’. It was groundbreaking, pioneering work in sign language research. He was the first to propose a linguistic status for sign languages. As such it predates the works of William Stokoe which usually receives that credit.

Ben Tervoort, a dutch Umberto Eco? (source:

His bibliography of works on sign language lists 102 works. He also wrote crime novels and childrens books. Some other memorials: Viataal,, Nederlands Gebarencentrum

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