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Professor Locke, noted linguist, dies at 90

William Locke
William Locke

Professor Emeritus William Nash Locke of Brunswick, ME, former head of the Department of Modern Languages and director of the MIT Libraries, died February 22 at the age of 90.

Professor Locke was born in Watertown, MA, and received the AB from Bowdoin College in 1930. After working for several years as a carpenter and electrician, he studied in Paris and received the MA in 1937 and the PhD in 1941 in linguistics from Harvard. After serving in the Office of War Information during World War II, he joined MIT as head of modern languages in 1945 and was named director of the MIT Libraries in 1956. He retired in 1974.

As head of the Libraries, Professor Locke initiated projects in speech analysis and machine translation and was responsible for introducing the study of linguistics to the Institute. He was an early advocate of wide-ranging uses of computers in library practices and was instrumental in expanding and modernizing MIT's library system. Professor Locke held patents for an early remote-controlled language laboratory as well as a screwdriver-wrench.

Professor Locke wrote and edited some 30 articles and four books in French dialectology, linguistics, phonetics and information science. His books were La Guerre Moderne with Edward D. Sullivan (1942), Pronunciation of the French Spoken in Brunswick, Maine (1949), Machine Translation of Languages with A. Donald Booth (1955) and Scientific French (1957). The French government decorated him in 1949 with Les Palmes d'Officier d'Academie for "an outstanding record in fostering cultural understanding in the international domain," and also made him a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur in 1956.

Professor Locke leaves his wife, Antoinette; a daughter, Elizabeth Dodge of Harpswell, ME; two sons, William Locke Jr. of Bethel Park, PA and John F. Locke of Portland, ME; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Memorial donations may be made to Harpswell Neck Fire and Rescue Inc., c/o Celeste Perkins, 212 Allen Point Rd., Harpswell, ME 04079.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 3, 2000.

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