Honoring the Masters. Sharing the Journey.

Gunnar Fant

Researcher, Scientist, Author and a pioneer in Speech Communication
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Gunnar Fant was a researcher, scientist, author and a pioneer in speech communication. Fant was born in Nyköping, Sweden, on October 8th, 1919. He completed a master’s degree in electrical engineering at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), graduating in 1945. He went on to work at the telephone company Ericsson, where he made acoustic analyses of Swedish speech sounds. In 1949, while working at Ericsson, Fant was invited by Leo Beranek to come to MIT and Harvard in the United States as a visiting scholar. While working at MIT (1949-51) in  the Acoustical Laboratory and Physics Department, he made connections with many colleagues including Roman Jakobson (of Harvard) and Morris Halle (of MIT), with whom he collaborated to write ‘Preliminaries to Speech Analysis: The Distinctive Features and Their Correlates,’ considered to be a landmark paper in the field of linguistics. 

After his time at MIT, Fant formed the Speech Transmission Laboratory at KTH in Sweden. One of the major contributions of Fant and the lab were voice synthesizers capable of synthetic speech that were very similar to human speech. In 1953 the OVE I was created, capable of controlling fundamental frequency and the first and second formant. By 1962, a complex voice synthesizer had been created, OVE II. Possibly Fant’s greatest contribution was the Source Filter Theory,which was formulated to describe d how vowels and consonants are produced and receive their acoustic properties. This theory is universal because it is independent of language and applies to speech, singing, and other modes of voice use. In 1960, Fant’s Acoustic Theory of Speech Production was released and became internationally recognized and adopted in the field.

In 2004, he authored Speech Acoustics and Phonetics: Selected Writings. As a researcher, Fant also contributed to the field and wrote  over 200 publications in journals, including Journal of Phonetics, Acoustical Journal of the Sovjet Academy of Science and Speech Transmission Laboratory Quarterly Progress Report. A full list of Fants publications can be found here. 

In 1966, Fant received his full professorship, his llab received funding and grants from the USA and Sweden and had grown to a size of 20 people. During this time, Fant was also active in the Acoustical Society of Sweden, acting as its President from 1962-1974, and simultaneously acting as President to the Acoustical Society of Scandinavia from 1963-1968. 

Fant was given many awards in honor of his great contribution to the field of voice, including a silver medal in speech communication from the Acoustical Society of America, a gold medal from the European Speech Communication Association, and the IEEE James L. Flanagan Speech and Audio Processing Award. 

Fant had a direct influence on many prominent voice scientists, most notably his impact on the career path of Dr. Johan Sundberg, which began when they made contact at KTH in the late 1960s. Gunnar retired formally in 1987 but remained a Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Fellow at KTH until his death in 2009.


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