Los Angeles, California

During the years Dwight spent at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles he advanced quickly through the ranks: Assistant Professor (1944-1946), Associate Professor (1947-1948), and Professor (1949-1960).  Within two years of arriving, Dwight was appointed Chairman of the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.

From 1948 on, his office was in Founders Hall, room 410. It is now named Taper Hall of Humanities, and is on the west side of Trousdale Parkway.  Photo courtesy of the University of Southern California, University Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian.
Spanish Dept. faculty, Jan. 22, 1951. Standing: Joseph Silverman, Carmen Roldan, Gerald Sullivan. Seated: Helen Sanz, Laudelino Moreno, Dorothy McMahon, DLB, Vincente Gaos.  Note the mustache on Dwight.  He dispensed with it a few years later, much to the relief of his family.  Photo courtesy of the University of Southern California, University Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian.

Pronunciation of “Los Angeles”

After years of debate as to how to pronounce “Los Angeles”, in 1952 the then-mayor, Fletcher Bowron, established a committee to determine the correct pronunciation.  Dwight was chairman and was instrumental in the choice of “Loss AN-ju-less.”  He told The Times that “from a Spanish language standpoint, the pronunciation is not as much at variance with the true Spanish as that employing the hard ‘g.’ ”

Occasionally, the universities where Dwight taught found it useful to take formal photographs of him.  Here is one taken by USC dating from December 1954.

Dwight Bolinger, USC Archives, Dec. 17, 1954

And this next one, taken in November 1957, shows Dwight when he took on the federal government to save the five Spanish sailors (for more on that subject, see below).

Dwight Bolinger, USC Archives, Nov. 20, 1957

Haskins Laboratories

During Dwight’s affiliation with USC, he was away for two periods.  From 1956-1957 he was a Research Fellow at the Haskins Laboratories in New York.

The following is an article that appeared in the Daily Trojan, on April 10, 1958, entitled, “Bolinger to Speak at Event”:

“Dr. Dwight L. Bolinger, head of the Spanish Department, will speak at the graduate school’s annual Research Lectures to be held April 18 and 6:30 p.m. in the Town and Gown foyer.  Dr. Bolinger’s lecture is entitled “Machines That Talk.”

“The series of lectures was inaugurated in 1933 under the auspices of the Graduate School.  The lecturer is chosen each year by a committee of the faculty of the Graduate School.

“Worked With Sound

“During 1956 and 1957, Dr. Bolinger was invited to engage in research activities at the Haskins Laboratory in New York City, a research center established to help the blind.

“Dr. Bolinger had done research on the nature of intonational patterns, pitch, inflections and their relationship to meaning in languages in general.

“His investigations led him to believe that there is a relationship between the basic elements of speech and the expression of common human emotions, regardless of differences in lexicon, semantics or structure.

“Theories Tested

“His articles to this effect prompted the Haskins Laboratories to invite him to use their facilities in order to test some of his theories regarding language, since the sightless must depend to a great extent on sound.  Experiments on the sonograph, a machine which enables one to see sound patterns, demonstrated that many of his theories are correct.”

Stockwell Obituary Describes Bolinger’s Talk

Robert Stockwell, on p. 107 of his obituary for Dwight, described the following:

“In the spring of 1958, just two years before he left USC permanently, Bolinger’s distinction was acknowledged by his colleagues at USC through a tradition known as The Graduate School Annual Research Lecture.  This was a truly gala event, with formal dining in a great hall followed by the lecture itself.  The guest of honor was permitted to invite his family and a couple of non-USC faculty colleagues; the other guests were local faculty and university dignitaries, donors, and the like.  Bolinger invited William E. Bull and me;  we had been working with him on a Department of Education grant to improve the methods and materials available for Spanish instruction.  His lecture was about ‘Machines that talk’.  It was one of my first exposures to the synthetic use of sound spectrograms to generate speech.  As I noted above, he had spent most of the previous year at Haskins Laboratories, and a whole series of papers were about to appear, based on experiments performed during that year that devastated much of the conventional wisdom about stress and pitch and intonation.  The lecture was designed for a lay audience.  Every step was carefully prepared; there was no need to back up at any point and explain some concept which might unexpectedly be needed for the audience to follow the argument.  By the end of an hour and a half of the most beautifully crafted presentation you can imagine, every one in the audience had a state-of-the-art understanding of speech synthesis.  To this day I have not heard a better lecture, ever, by anyone.”

National Defense Education Act Visiting Linguist

The second period when Dwight was away from USC was in 1959 when he was a Visiting Linguist at the 1st NDEA Institute, University of Colorado, Boulder.  This was also an opportunity for the university to look him over and probably let to his being offered a professorship in 1960.

NDEA Institute, Univ. of Colorado, 1959
NDEA Institute, Univ. of Colorado, 1959
NDEA Institute, Univ. of Colorado, 1959
NDEA Institute, Univ. of Colorado, 1959

The Case of the Five Spanish Sailors

“Dear Fellow Hispanists:  In June and July of this year occurred a series of small events with a large human import and a larger significance for us as mediators between Americans and the peoples who speak Spanish.”  Thus began a letter written by Dwight in October 1957 on behalf of five Spanish sailors who had deserted from their training ship after it docked in San Diego, and who had crossed the border into Mexico.  No doubt a factor in their selection of Mexico rather than some other Latin American country was that it had supported the Spanish Republican government during the civil war and still did not have relations with Spain, then still under the Franco dictatorship.  They probably hoped that they would be given political asylum and allowed to remain there rather than be returned to Spain.  But they had no contacts in Mexico, were picked up by the Tijuana police, and moved back across the border into the US.   The letter, signed by Dwight and 25 other teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, was probably mailed to the entire membership of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP), in which Dwight was active.  Click on the following to view the letter:  Dwight’s fund-raising letter on behalf of the 5 Spanish sailors.

The letter spells out many of the details of the case but not all.  It was Dwight who, after reading a tiny news item in the Los Angeles Times about the Spanish sailors being in U.S. custody, contacted A.L. Wirin, the noted civil liberties attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California.   Wirin took immediate legal action to obtain a last minute restraining order blocking return of the sailors to their ship.  The sailors were on the dock about to be returned to their ship when the restraining order reached the Navy, stopping any further action.  What happened next was that Dwight, Wirin, Professor Laudelino Moreno of the USC Spanish Department, and Dwight’s son, Bruce, took the train from L.A. to Santa Ana where they met with a retired Marine Corps officer who gave them advice on how to obtain permission from the Navy, the custodian of the sailors, to meet with the Spaniards.  Until the little delegation could meet with the sailors and persuade them to authorize the ACLU to represent them, there was nothing legally that could be done to help them.  Professor Moreno, a native Spaniard and former diplomat of the Spanish Republic, was of particular help because he could put the sailors at their ease.  The sailors were happy to have the help and signed up.  There followed months of legal proceedings and a campaign to make the public aware of the facts of the case.  Among the people recruited by Dwight to support their cause was Rufus B. Von KleinSmid, Chancellor of USC, and Frank Baxter, noted TV personality and Professor of English at USC.  Even the political columnist Drew Pearson picked up the story.  As part of the campaign, Americans were urged to write letters to John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, and William P. Rogers, the United States Attorney General.

One of the legal issues in the case was the applicability of a 1913 treaty between the United States and Spain, then still a monarchy.  One of its provisions called for reciprocal return of deserters.  But the crew of the Spanish ship had been given leave to visit San Diego.  Consequently, while the sailors were in the San Diego area, whatever their intentions, they had not deserted.  But when they stepped into Mexico, they had.   But Mexico not only had no such treaty, it did not recognize the Franco regime.  A.L. Wirin argued, among other things, that the treaty did not apply to the Spanish sailors because they deserted in Mexico, not the United States.  And the circumstances of their return to the U.S. were most peculiar (see Dwight’s letter).

During the legal proceedings in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, a representative of the Mexican government dramatically announced that the government of Mexico would welcome the five Spaniards.  Even the prelate of the Roman Catholic Church in Baja California gave his support to the sailors.  Ultimately, the five Spanish sailors won their freedom to enter Mexico.  The last article to appear about them in the ACLU newsletter showed them waving a happy goodbye as they crossed into Mexico.

A side note: actually there were six sailors who deserted, not five.  But the sixth had a girl friend in San Diego and may be there even now!

MLA Modern Spanish Textbook

In his personal essay, “First Person, Not Singular,” p. 34, Dwight explains how Modern Spanish came about:

“…Sputnik hit the language-teaching profession like a misguided missile.  The U.S. was losing its lead.  The National Defense Education Act was set up to get things moving in science, mathematics, and foreign language.  Bill Parker, Director of the Foreign Language Program at the Modern Language Association, asked me to head up a committee to write a textbook that would break away from some of the anti-linguistic traditions that kept repeating themselves in one book after another.  The idea of the project was to put the pressure on publishers by producing a text that would be officially sponsored by the Association but let out for bids by commercial publishers–in hopes that competition would then force other publishers to follow.  The scheme was fairly successful and the resulting text, Modern Spanish, was an important part of the audiolingual revolution—what was unjustifiably called by some people at the time the ‘linguistic method’.”

By the spring of 1958 Dwight was in Austin, Texas, working on the project that eventually became Modern Spanish.  Here is a rare photo of the working committee members conferring on it.

MLA textbook working committee, Dwight Bolinger far left, Norman P. Sacks to Dwight’s right. J. Donald Bowen on right of Agnes M. Brady. Ernest F. Haden and Lawrence Poston, Jr. make up the rest. Photo taken in 1958.

Robert Stockwell, in his obituary of Dwight, p. 107, said “I am certain that all who worked on it would agree that the success of the cooperative enterprise was due overwhelmingly to Bolinger’s leadership.”

Presidency of American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese

In 1960, Dwight was elected president of the AATSP.  By then 139 publications were to his credit, including some three dozen articles related specifically to Spanish plus four books, Intensive Spanish (1948), Spanish Review Grammar (1956), Interrogative Structures of American English (1957), and Modern Spanish (1960).  The presidency of AATSP was probably a recognition of his prominence in the field.

Decision to Leave Los Angeles

In 1960, during a working session with some of his colleagues, Dwight suffered what appears to have been an ischemic stroke in which his left arm went numb and briefly he could not speak.  However, he never lost consciousness.  His colleagues rushed him to the nearest hospital, where he had a quick recovery.  At that time he was filming the scenes used in the Modern Spanish textbook as well as teaching.   Fed up with Los Angeles traffic and pollution and with his health in mind, he both drastically changed his diet and welcomed an invitation to teach at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  It also would be an opportunity to work with the French phonetician Pierre Delattre, with whom he had collaborated at the Haskins Laboratories in 1956-57.