J Milton Cowan
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Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Cowan was the son of a butcher, who, hesitating between the first names James and John when the boy was born, decided to give him neither but to let the boy make the choice himself when he grew up. However, Cowan never chose one, referring to himself as "J, no period, Milton Cowan".
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cowan served as a missionary in Germany for some time during his youth. Back in the U.S., he earned a master's degree in German from the University of Utah in 1932, then a doctorate from the University of Iowa, with a thesis on the American dramatic speech, in 1935. He occupied a number of academic positions throughout his life, becoming the president of the Linguistic Society of America in 1966. From 1946 to the early 1970s, he was the director of the Division of Modern Languages (now the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics) at Cornell University. In 1972, he and his wife co-founded the publishing house Spoken Language Services. Cowan published very little. He was the editor of the Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic.