The John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation announced yesterday 19 MacArthur Prize Fellows. The fellows program, inaugurated last year, provides awards ranging from $24,000 to $60,000 annually for five years to talented individuals in the humanities, arts and sciences.

The foundation, which named 41 MacArthur Fellows in 1981, is expected to announce a second group later this year. Recipients represent 40 fields of work and research, including mathematics, international affairs, linguistics, education, film, social sciences and musical composition. To date the foundation has committed a total of $14 million to the fellows program.

"We've been happy with the risks we have to take in this program and now it is taking on the diversity which we have wanted," said J. Roderick MacArthur, chairman of the MacArthur Prize Fellows Program and son of the late John D. MacArthur, who created the foundation.

The fellows grants are unique because recipients are under no obligations. The MacArthur Foundation established the awards to enable fellows to develop their projects without the commercial or professional restraints inherent in similar programs.

One recipient, Charles Bigelow, a private graphics design consultant and research pioneer in cultural topography, expressed surprise. "I was astounded and delighted," Bigelow said. "Topography is such a humble profession. I guess I received the award because a lot of the work I did wasn't for commercial reasons." Bigelow plans to continue his research and development of alphabets for native American languages.

"For the coming year, I certainly plan to stay at Stanford University," said Persi Diaconis, a professor of mathematical statistics there, whose work includes a statistical investigation into parapsychology. "I believe there is no better way to work out your theories than to teach other smart people.

"I think that the support the grant will give is more important than the money," said Diaconis. "It's the fact that the world is recognizing what you are doing. I've followed my nose this far and it seems to have worked out."

The 19 recipients, their age, birthplace, current residence, fields of endeavor and the annual amount of award are:

Fouad Ajami, 36, Arnoun, Lebanon, and New York, N.Y., Middle East affairs, $36,000.

Charles Bigelow, 37, Detroit, Mich., and Boston, Mass., graphic design, topography/anthropology, $36,800.

Peter Brown, 47, Dublin, Ireland, and Berkeley, Calif., history and classics, $44,800.

Robert Darnton, 43, New York, N.Y., and Princeton, N.J., history, $41,600.

Persi Diaconis, 37, New York, N.Y., and Stanford, Calif., mathematical statistics, $36,800.

William Gaddis, 59, New York, N.Y., and New York, N.Y., writing, $54,400.

Francesca Rochberg-Halton, 30, Philadelphia, Pa., and South Bend, Ind., history of science, Assyriology, $31,200.

Ved Mehta, 48, India and New York, N.Y., writing, $45,600.

Robert Moses, 47, New York, N.Y., and Cambridge, Mass., education, $44,800.

Richard Muller, 38, New York, N.Y., and Berkeley, Calif., experimental physics, $37,600.

Conlon Nancarrow, 69, Texarkana, Ark., and Mexico City, Mexico, musical composition, $60,000.

Alfonso Ortiz, 43, San Pueblo, N.M., and Santa Fe, N.M., anthropology, $41,600.

Charles Sabel, 34, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Cambridge, Mass., social science, $34,400.

Ralph Shapey, 61, Philadelphia, Pa., and Chicago, Ill., musical composition, $56,000.

Michael Silverstein, 36, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Chicago, Ill., anthropology/linguistics, $36,000.

Randolph Whitfield Jr., 44, Atlanta, Ga., and Kiganjo, Kenya, ophthalmology and health services, $42,400.

Frank Wilcek, 31, Mineola, N.Y., and Santa Barbara, Calif., theoretical physics, $32,000.

Frederick Wiseman, 51, Boston, Mass., and Boston, Mass., film, $48,000.

Edward Whitten, 30, Baltimore, Md., and Princeton, N.J., theoretical physics, $31,200.