Description and learning outcomes
Course description: This is a graduate-level seminar
on the history of phonetics. The focus is on the period between the mid
1800s to mid 1900s, which witnessed some major developments leading to
the current state of the field, including the founding of the IPA, the
early days of experimental phonetics, the invention of the sound
spectrograph, and the development of the acoustic theory of speech
Also during this period, phonetics was affected by factors such as
colonialism and Western-centrism, oralism and eugenics, as well as
ethnic nationalism, racism, and White supremacy. These have had
consequences that persist in our field today. In this course, we’ll
discuss the negative consequences of such sociopolitical factors for
phonetics, with an eye towards learning how to make our discipline more
inclusive and just.
Learning outcomes. By the end of this seminar, you
should be able to:
- Understand how contemporary phonetics is shaped by its history,
particularly by developments that occurred c.1860-1960.
- Describe some of the major topics in phonetic research and their
- Understand the history of racism, oralism, and ableism in phonetic
research, and how these continue to shape contemporary phonetics.
- Identify Eurocentrism within phonetic research and instruction.
- Recognize the power imbalances that marginalize voices in our
discipline, and find ways to support those voices.
- Identify phoneticians from marginalized communities whose lives and
work have gone under-appreciated.
% of Final Grade
Readings will be posted to this page, either as URL links or as
links to the Canvas page. For URL links, make sure you’re connected to
to ensure you can access the papers.
Every week, you will be required to do the readings found under
the “Readings” tab. You will also have to submit (as a Canvas
assignment) a response to the discussion exercise found under that tab.
Discussion exercises are due Tuesdays by 11:59 PM.
Some weeks there will also be a group exercise, listed under the
“Perspectives” tab. The exercises are to be done together as a group on
Canvas. You are required to participate in these exercises, by creating
a new post that contributes new ideas or information to the exercise.
Your contribution(s) must occur within 3 weeks of the initiation of the
thread on Canvas.
The final project can be on any topic of relevance to the history of
phonetics. The following are some ideas:
- An annotated bibliography on the history of research on
- A written paper on the role of members of a particular community in
the field of phonetics, or on the history of phonetics in a particular
- A webpage that integrates the IPA and extIPA in an interactive
- A podcast or video on improving diversity in phonetics
You are strongly encouraged to work on a topic related to social
justice and equity, diversity, and inclusion in phonetics; you can find
some ideas that relate to weekly topics in the Perspectives tabs of a
given week’s material. The topic must be approved by the instructor by
the end of Week 3. You should schedule at least two meetings with the
instructor: in Week 3 (to have topic approved) and by the end of Week 8
(to discuss the progress you’ve made).
Explanation of grades:
For both undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in this class,
grades are to be assigned according to common practice for graduate
- A+: performance exceeds expectations (for grads: relative to a
1st-year graduate student in linguistics; for undergrads: relative to a
- A: performance meets expectations
- A-: performance is below expectations
- B(+/-): performance is well below expectations
- C(+/-): (rare) performance is seriously unsatisfactory, yet still
merits a passing grade
- F: fail
The goal of this class is to learn about the history of phonetics,
but also to learn (and teach) about the history of phonetics
specifically within an anti-racist pedagogical framework that is
committed to the values of social justice, equity, diversity, and
Please review the
be using for discussing EDI-related issues. Other
tools for talking about race in
are provided from the National Museum of African American History &
Culture. Please also consider your own
within phonetics/linguistics and how it might impact your research
interests, the questions you ask, and the way you view the major figures
in the development of phonetics/linguistics.
Phonetics and its history usually get described by a small set of
privileged voices. I have also included readings in English, so that
they can be readily accessible to all in the class. Consequently, most
of the historical and contemporary readings in this course are authored
by White men from Western Europe and North America. Integrating a
diverse set of experiences is important for a more comprehensive
understanding of phonetics and its history, and I will strive to include
as diverse a set of English-language readings as possible. But please
contact me (by email, even anonymously) if you have any suggestions to
improve the diversity of the course materials!
UC San Diego is built on the un-ceded territory of the Kumeyaay
Nation. Today, the Kumeyaay people continue to maintain their political
sovereignty and cultural traditions as vital members of the San Diego
community. We acknowledge their tremendous contributions to our region
and thank them for their stewardship. In the spirit of this land
acknowledgement, we will also review the history and changes in phonetic
fieldwork specifically on Kumeyaay/Kumiai languages as well as on
Luiseño, the language indigenous to north San Diego county.
Community guidelines and support
It isn’t only the content of this seminar that is meant to revolve
around social justice; another aim of this seminar is for the
interactions of all participants (including students and instructor) to
operate from that framework. As a learning community then, we hope that
this seminar will foster open, respectful, productive dialogue and
maximum participation. To do so, we agree to:
- Participate to the fullest of our ability.
- Share responsibility for including all voices in the
- Speak from our own experience instead of generalizing and
differentiate between opinion and informed knowledge.
- Restate ideas to check for understanding before responding.
- Engage with ideas, not individuals.
- Not deny someone’s opinion, condemn someone’s response, or make
someone feel inadequate based on their contribution.
- Try not to multitask; turn off other technologies if possible and be
In-class discussions will be graded accoridng to the following
Guidelines for seminar discussions:
Conversations around historically marginalized groups can
unintentionally evoke feelings of distress and lead to further harm to
members of those communities. It is my hope that, should this occur, you
feel comfortable discussing these issues with me. Please also consider
reaching out to UCSD’s Counselling and
Psychological Services if you feel the need to speak to a
professional. Know also that CAPS has
specifically for Black, Indigenous, and other students of color to help
deal with post-trauma symptoms, and for other members of the campus
community to be better allies and work towards anti-racist practices.
See also the
trauma toolkit for learning about continued racial and
intergenerational trauma in the African-American community.