Born: October 5, 1940
Died: August 30, 2009

George Nickerson Clements was born in Cincinnati, son of George Lowe Clements and Rosalie Frances Bangs Clements. He prepared for Yale at Moses Brown School, Providence, R.I. and St. Mark's, Southborough, Massachusetts.

At Yale Nick was a resident of Silliman College. He majored in Art and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He was a ranking scholar and on Dean's List.

After graduation Nick spent a year in Nashville as a classical music DJ. He then served two years in the Army Signal Corps and was stationed in Germany. Following his discharge, he lived in Spain for several years painting, studying art and writing for an English language periodical. In 1968 he received a certificate from the Centre de Linguistique Quantitative, Faculté des Sciences, University of Paris.

In 1973, he received his Ph.D. in linguistics from the School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London, defending a thesis on the Ewe language based on a year of fieldwork in Ghana. He was a visiting scientist and lecturer at the department of foreign languages and linguistics at MIT (1973-1975), and held appointments as Assistant Professor and Associate Professor at Harvard (1975-1982). In 1982, he moved to Cornell University, where he was Professor of Linguistics and Director of the Phonetics Laboratory. In 1992, he came to Paris, where he became Director of Research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and worked in the Laboratory of Phonetics and Phonology. He held this position until 2008, when he was elected Professor Emeritus. Clements was also an invited professor in various prestigious universities across the world, in Europe, USA, India, and Australia. He was also very active in the academic world. In the last three years, he organized two widely attended international conferences at the Sorbonne University: one on "The phonetic bases of distinctive features" in 2006 and one on "Where do phonological features come from?" in 2007.

In a memorial essay, Nick's colleague Rachid Ridouane lauded his achievements:

His research interests were wide-ranging and he made outstanding contributions in phonology and the phonetics-phonology interface. He is best known for his groundbreaking work on syllable and feature theory and his pioneering work on the phonological systems of various African languages, including tonal and vowel-harmony systems. His recent cross-linguistic studies on phonological units have contributed in designing and developing theories and models on phonological representations and have led to a better understanding of the role of features in speech sound inventories. A characteristic feature of Clements' works is his rigorous scientific method and his unusual gift for finding the most convincing argumentations and drawing the clearest and most synthesized conclusions. Clements was not only an excellent connoisseur of the field and an expert on the language or languages studied, but also an outstanding theoretician and a highly trained phonetician. He left behind for us tremendous work in the areas of phonology and phonetics. He wrote and co-authored five books and nearly 100 articles, including journal articles, book and encyclopedia chapters, conference and working papers. He was productive until the end of his life, with some of his major contributions still to be published.

Nick Clements had several passions outside of the field of linguistics. He was a music lover and was particularly knowledgeable about jazz music. He played keyboard in a jazz workshop at a club in Paris in the last year of his life. He was also a passionate traveler and visited many parts of the world in the five continents. He traveled for both work and pleasure, and was fluent in several languages. But the number one passion was his family: his wife and colleague, Dr. Annie Rialland, his children William and Célia, his brother, sisters and their families.

Nick Clements was a great linguist, endowed with an outstanding ability to listen, to guide, to inspire reflections, and to stimulate brainstorming and creative thinking. He was also gifted with noble human qualities: kind, compassionate, generous, and humble. He will forever be remembered fondly for that and much more.

In addition to his research in phonology and his focus on African languages, he was an enthusiastic member of the Audubon Society from a young age. He took birding trips throughout the Northeast and Canada. Music of all types was a lifelong passion for him, both as an appreciative listener, and self-taught guitarist and pianist.

Following his death from cancer on Cape Cod, many tributes by fellow linguistics around the world were posted in his honor on the Internet including essays by Prof. Elizabeth Hume of Ohio State, Prof. Larry Hyman of California-Berkeley and Prof. Fidele Mpiranya of University of Chicago as well as by his CNRS colleagues in Paris.

George is survived by his wife, Dr. Annie Rialland, with whom he collaborated on numerous studies, and his children William and Célia. He is also survived by his brother John Swansey of Durham, N.C., his two sisters, Julie Edmonds of Stockbridge, Mass., and Lisa Swansey of Falmouth, Mass., five nieces and nephews and a grandnephew.

Funeral arrangements were private. The family suggested that donations in his memory by made to Mass. General Hospital Cancer Center for funding research.