Ward, Ida Caroline (1880–1949)

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Ward, Ida Caroline (1880–1949)

British phonetician and West African language scholar . Born on October 4, 1880, in Bradford, Yorkshire, England; died on October 10, 1949, in Guildford, England; daughter of Samson Ward (a wool merchant) and Hannah (Tempest) Ward; educated in Bradford and at the Darlington Training College; Durham University, B.Litt., 1902; London University, Ph.D., 1933; never married.

Born in 1880 in Yorkshire, England, Ida Caroline Ward was the eighth child of Samson and Hannah Ward , and received her early education in her hometown of Bradford. After attending the Darlington Training College, she went on to graduate from Durham University with a bachelor's degree in 1902.

Ward taught secondary school for 16 years before entering the phonetics department of London's University College in 1919 and becoming an expert in the major European languages. Her interest in African languages grew into a specialty and in 1932, after joining the staff of what later became London University's School of Oriental and African Studies, she earned a doctorate from that institution on the strength of her scholarly research, published as Phonetic and Tonal Structure of Efik. Her study focused scientifically on the tonal importance of African language, a subject she pursued further with the groundbreaking Introduction to the Ibo Language, published in 1936. A year later, Ward was appointed head of the university's new department of African languages and cultures. From its humble beginnings, Ward established the department as an internationally recognized center for research on Africa, which was consulted by numerous missionary, educational and governmental bodies. Although Ward engaged herself in instructing English colonial officers to the African cultures they were to govern, she also taught Africans how to study their own language to perpetuate the scholarly study in African universities. She was instrumental in the development of the International African Institute's Handbook of African Languages, and her other scholarly works, Practical Phonetics for Students of African Languages (1933) and Introduction to the Yoruba Language (posthumously published in 1952), were no less important to the field.

England officially recognized Ward's numerous contributions to language study by making her a Commander of the British Empire in 1948, the same year she officially resigned her chair at the university and began a tour of American learning institutions. Ward lived with her widowed sister and passed away in Guildford, England, on October 10, 1949.


The Dictionary of National Biography, 1941–1950. Edited by L.G. Wickham Legg and E.T. Williams. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland