In memoriam: Noriko Akatsuka laid groundwork for Asian linguistics program at UCLA

Published: March 21, 2017

Noriko Akatsuka, who established the foundation for the Asian linguistics program in the UCLA Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, passed away on Oct. 17, 2016, in Santa Monica at the age of 79. UCLA’s Asian linguistics program is now recognized as one of the best in the world.

Known for her four-decades-long research on syntax, semantics and pragmatics, professor Akatsuka came to UCLA from the University of Chicago in 1981 and faced the challenge of designing a graduate program in Asian linguistics that needed to be both academically rigorous and broadly attractive to prospective students.

During her career, Akatsuka also redesigned the Japanese language program that she had inherited at a time when interest in Japanese was just beginning.

At UCLA, she laid the groundwork for research in both cognitive linguistics and applied linguistics. Her research most consistently targeted the domain of conditionality (and modality), integrating disciplines of theoretical linguistics, cognitive linguistics, psychology and philosophy, in which she interlaced logic, emotion and desirability.

Her colleagues recalled that, from as early as the 1980s, Akatsuka instituted an implicit “Day 1″ philosophy in her elementary Japanese classes, requiring that all newcomers heard and spoke only Japanese. These students began to read and write in Japanese, thanks to her creative mnemonic graphics for the Japanese syllabaries.

Akatsuka exuded a passion and energy that inspired many of her students to pursue majors, minors and graduate degrees in these fields, her colleagues and former students said. In 1995, Akatsuka received the Harriet and Charles Luckman Distinguished Teaching Award, one of UCLA’s highest faculty honors.

Her colleagues said they will remember her not only for her scholarship, teaching and mentoring, but her kindness and hospitality in opening of her West L.A. home to them, students and friends for social gatherings as well as departmental meetings.

To honor Akatsuka, a memorial contribution can be made to the UCLA Foundation (Geriatrics), indicating in the memo line, “In memory of Noriko Akatsuka.” Mail to: UCLA Health Sciences Dev, Attn: Brian Loew, 10945 Le Conte Avenue, Suite 3132, Los Angeles, CA 90095. (310) 794-7620.