Course information

  • Class time: Wednesdays 12-2 P.M.
  • Class location: AP&M 4432
  • Class modality: First four weeks on Zoom ( Thereafter in person, with masks.

Instructor details

Course resources

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 production.

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 historical development.
  • 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.


Item % of Final Grade
Final project 35%
Weekly assignments 25%
Canvas discussions 25%
In-class discussion 15%


  • 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 the VPN 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.

Final project:

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 coarticulation
  • 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 country
  • A webpage that integrates the IPA and extIPA in an interactive manner
  • 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 courses:

  • A+: performance exceeds expectations (for grads: relative to a 1st-year graduate student in linguistics; for undergrads: relative to a senior)
  • 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

Pedagogical framework

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 inclusion.

Please review the glossary we’ll be using for discussing EDI-related issues. Other resources and tools for talking about race in education are provided from the National Museum of African American History & Culture. Please also consider your own positionality 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 conversation.
  • 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 fully present.

In-class discussions will be graded accoridng to the following rubric.

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 resources 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 Racial trauma toolkit for learning about continued racial and intergenerational trauma in the African-American community.

Weekly organization

For a given week, you’ll find up to five tabs:

  • Readings: Required readings before the Wednesday lecture. This tab will also include a required weekly assignment, due no later than Tuesday 11:59 PM before the Wednesday lecture.

  • Lecture: Materials and notes for the Wednesday lecture.

  • Perspectives: References for topics addressing social justice, anti-racism, and equity, diversity, and inclusion in phonetics. These are generally for further exploration, and can be used for inspiration for a final project topic. This tab may also include a copy of a graded Discussion to be done on Canvas. Blue hyperlinks are either to a DOI or (if stated) to Canvas course page; references on reserve appear in red. Please contact Marc if you have trouble accessing any of the links.

  • References: Other references for the week that do not appear in the Perspectives tab. Blue hyperlinks are either to a DOI or (if stated) to Canvas course page; references on reserve appear in red. Please contact Marc if you have trouble accessing any of the links.

  • Bios: Biographies and obituaries of authors and key figures cited throughout the week. A general source for biographies of phoneticians is * [Reserve] Bronstein, A. J., Raphael, L. J., & Stevens, CJ. (eds.) (1977). A biographical dictionary of the phonetic sciences. New York: Lehman College.

Week 1 doesn’t have a pre-lecture Readings tab.

Week 1: Overview


Why study the history of phonetics?

There is undeniable entertainment value in history. It satisfies our curiosity: it uncovers unexpected links between people, things, and events; it makes us see familiar things from a new perspective. History is a story and we all enjoy stories. Whatever form of satisfaction is derived from reading the Guinness Book of Records or books of “firsts” may also be provided by histories. But many believe there are also moral, philosophical, and sound scientific lessons to be derived from the history of science. History may inspire us to emulate the pioneers in the field – those who had the daring to break from tradition and try something new. Tracing the history of ideas can enlarge a researcher’s horizons: What is the basis for common assumptions underlying current practice? Are they well-founded? Were some of the “modern” discoveries in the field anticipated, and, if so, what factors account for the earlier ideas or ideas being rejected? Are there similar factors present today causing some ideas to be ignored? Are there common elements of methodology to some of the significant advances in the past?

(Ohala et al. 1999: iv)

Why mid-1800s to mid-1900s?

  • Descriptive phonetics: Spelling reform and phonetic notation → IPA

  • Acoustic phonetics: Helmholtz vowel resonances → the Acoustic Theory of Speech Production

  • Experimental phonetics: Mechanical kymograms → electrical oscillograms and spectrograms

  • Linguistic theory: Neogrammarian sound change ⇝ Structural linguistics ⇝ Generative linguistics and sociolinguistics

  • Birth of modern discipline: Spelling reformers, language teachers, medical doctors, engineers ⇝ phoneticians

Moral lessions to be derived

  • Understand links between phonetic sciences and:

    • religious devotion and artistic expression

    • language teaching and literacy

    • eugenics, oralism, White supremacy, colonialism

  • How was modern phonetic discovery able to develop in the ways that it did? Whose voices were suppressed in the process of these discoveries?

  • In the present and future, how can we be more moral practitioners of phonetics?

Factors causing ideas, people, to be ignored

  • Signed language phonetics vs. spoken language phonetics

  • Sociophonetics vs. “theoretical” phonetics

  • Phonetics vs. linguistics

  • Theoretical vs. Applied linguistics

  • Highlight successes of phoneticians from marginalized groups, while also asking:

    • What barriers might such phoneticians have to overcome?

    • Why do such phoneticians work on the research topics that they do?


The diverse origins of phonetics

la fɔnetik, ɑ̃n ɛfɛ, n ɛ pɑ, kɔm ɔ̃ l kʁwa paʁfwɑ, yn sjɑ̃ːs ne d jɛr: ɛl ɛ l eʁitjɛʁ d œ̃ lɔ̃ pɑse. la fɔnetik mɔdɛʁn ɛ la sɛ̃tɛːz də tʁwɑ dɔktʁin ki s sɔ̃ fɔʁme ɛ devlɔpe ʃɑkyn d yn fasɔ̃ ɛ̃depɑ̃dɑ̃ːt: 1° la dɔktʁin de filɔzɔf ɛ de gʁameʁjɛ̃ gʁɛk, 2° la dɔktʁin de gʁameʁjɛ̃z ɛ̃du, 3° la dɔktʁin de fizjɔlɔʒist ɛ de fizisjɛ̃ mɔdɛʁn.

In fact, phonetics is not, as one sometimes believes, a science born yesterday; it inherits a long past. Modern phonetics is the synthesis of three doctrines, each of which developed in its own independent manner: (1) the doctrine of the Greek philosopher and grammarian; (2) the doctrine of the Hindu grammarian; (3) the doctrine of the modern physiologist and physicist.

(Léonce Roudet, “nɔt syʁ l istwaːʁ d la fɔnetik [Note on the history of phonetics],” 1900: p. 127, translated by M. Garellek)

[Phonetics is] a science which India may claim as her very own—as acute and successful observation in human speech was first made in connexion with Vedic Sanskrit by the sages of India at least 2500 years ago—and in the development of which Persia joined hands with Arabia through their common bond of Islam and the Arabic language which has endured over ten centuries.

(Suniti K. Chatterji, speech at ICPhS II, 1935: p. 7.)

Without the Indian grammarians and phoneticians whom [Sir William Jones] introduced and recommended to us [the English], it is difficult to imagine our nineteenth century school of phonetics.

(J. R. Firth, “The English School of Phonetics,” 1946: p. 119.)

The above quotations are correct, but still incomplete; phonetics inherits a long past from scholars around the world, and its development is also tied to religious devotion, artistic expression, and the evolution of writing. Explore the references below to learn more!

Phonetics and linguistics in East Asia

Phonetics and linguistics in Ancient India

Phonetics and linguistics in the Middle East

Phonetics and linguistics in the West

History of women in linguistics in the West


General resources on the history of linguistics

Historical reviews

Week 2: Phonetic notation


The problem of sound-notation is as old as civilization itself, but it is only of late years that that of scientific sound-notation has become urgent. There is now a general conviction among philologists of the necessity of a general alphabet, but with utter discord of opinion as to the means of attaining it.

(Henry Sweet, “Sound notation”, 1888: p.12)

19th century phonetic notation in Britain

Compare the notations in A. M. Bell’s (1867), “Visible Speech”, Ellis’ palaeotype (1867), Sweet’s romic system (1877) and organic symbols (1906).

In a 1- or 2-page essay, address the following questions regarding changes from the 19th century, to the first alphabet published in the mf in 1888:

  1. What were the authors’ purposes for inventing these systems of phonetic notation?

  2. Do the notations require special symbols and diacritics?

  3. Are these notations suitable for languages other than English?

  4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of these non-IPA systems compared to the IPA?



나라말이 중국과 달라, 한문・한자와 서로 통하지 아니하므로, 어리석은 백성들이 말하고자 하는 바가 있어도, 끝내 제 뜻을 펴지 못하는 사람이 많다. 내가 이를 불쌍히 여겨, 새로 스물 여덟 글자를 만드니, 사람마다 하여금 쉽게 익혀, 날마다 씀에 편하게 하고자 할 따름이다.

The speech sounds of our country’s language are different from those of the Middle Kingdom and are not communicable with the Chinese characters. Therefore, when my beloved simple people want to say something, many of them are unable to express their feelings. Feeling compassion for this I have newly designed twenty-eight letters, only wishing to have everyone easily learn and use them conveniently every day.

(King Sejong, preface to the Hunmin chŏng’ŭm (훈민정음, “The Correct Sounds for the Instruction of the People,” October 9, 1446. Korean text from 훈민정음 (Wiki); translation from Gnanadesikan 2009: p. 204.)

Phonetic notation

Inspired heavily by Heselwood 2013 and MacMahon 2013.

  • Phonetic transcription: “[…] form of writing in which the symbols have phonetic definitions supplied by phonetic theory.” (Heselwood 2013: 37)

  • Phonetic notation in writing:

    • Rebus principle: using a logogram of word A for word B if A and B are homophones, e.g. “Don’t worry, just 🐝 yourself.”

    • Logograms → syllabograms: “The ba🐝 was cra🐝 today.”

    • Acrophonic principle: using {logo-/syllabo-}grams for first sound in word/syllable. Used with Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese fǎnqiè (反切 , characters used for syllable onset/initial and rhyme/final values). Imagine if 🐝 came to be used for all [b]s, as in “🐝ut 🐝eyoncé 🐝etter 🐝e 🐝ack 🐝efore 🐝edtime.”

    • Also the linearization of writing → sound segmentation

  • Phonetic theories in notation:

    • Ancient Indian (ca 800-100 BCE) grammarians’ (Pāṇini पाणिनि, Patañjali पतञ्जलि) classification of sounds by place, manner, voicing. Motivated by prescriptivism and desire for accurate pronunciation of ancient Vedic texts.

    • The full passage of the Pāṇinīya-Śikṣā (6-10) quoted by Bare (1976) at top of course page (इति वर्णविदः प्राहुर निपुणं तन्निबोधत) illustrates connection between phonetic classification, accurate pronunciation, and spiritual devotion; see transliteration and translation from Ghosh (1938: p. 54):

[(Pāṇinīya-Śikṣā 6-10 (Ghosh 1938: p. 54))]
  • Sample classification of Sanskrit sounds (Whitney 1889: p. 26):

[(Analysis of Sanskrit sounds, from William Dwight Whitney’s Sanskrit Grammar (1889: p. 26))]

  • Ancient Greek (also ca 800-100 BCE) philosophers’ (Plato Πλάτων, Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης, Stoics Στωικοί) and later grammarians’ (e.g. Dionysius Thrax Διονύσιος ὁ Θρᾷξ) division between consonants and vowels, stops vs. continuants, 3-way voicing contrasts (though mechanism of voicing not understood). Motivated by prescriptivism and desire for accurate pronunciation. Similar elocutionary considerations are found in the Roman era, e.g. in Cicero’s De Oratore (55 BCE) and later in Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria (early 1st century CE).

  • Arab and Persian grammarians’ classification of Arabic sounds/letters, as well as subphonemic detail like nasalization. Major figures include Sībawayh(i) (سيبويه) and Ibn Jinni (ابن جني), but see Week 1’s bios for other figures. Motivated by prescriptivism and desire for accurate pronunciation of the Qur’ān, though e.g. in Sībawayhi’s Al-Kitāb (الكتاب) there is plenty of description of dialectal and idiolectal variation in Arabic (Sara 2007).

[(Heselwood 2013: Figure 2.2)]

  • Chinese tradition: “Rhyme tables” ( yùntú 韻圖/韵图) and methods of classifying consonants; likely influenced by Sanskrit tradition via Buddhism.

    • In the 16th century CE, attempts to reconstruct the pronunciation of poetry composed in the 6th century.

    • 18th century: Duan Yucai’s (段玉裁, 1735–1815) commentary of 2nd-century dictionary Shuōwén Jiězì (說文解字).

  • Quasi-featural notation of Korean hangul (한글), based on organic-iconic principles. Introduced in the 15th century to replace Chinese characters: a “proto-phonetic” notation system as well as an orthographic one.

[(Heselwood 2013: Figure 3.1)]

  • ‘English School’ of phonetics in 16th and 17th centuries from Sir Thomas Smith (1513–77) to William Holder (1616-1698); see Heselwood 2013, esp. Table 2.1 on p.65. Driven by spelling reform, a policy whose goal is to increase the transparency of sound–spelling correspondences. Several members of English school (John Wallis, William Holder, George Dalgarno) were driven by speech education of the deaf.

[(Heselwood 2013: Table 2.1)]

  • In 19th century Britain, major developments in use of shorthand (Pitman) and phonetic notation (Bell, Ellis, Sweet) that would eventually lead to development of the IPA.

Broad classes of notation:

  • Organic-iconic: based on an articulatory space; visual similarity between symbol and what it denotes articulatorily:

    • Korean hangul

    • Wilkins 1668

    [(Heselwood 2013: Figure 3.3)]

  • Bell’s Visible Speech

[(Bell’s Visible Speech diagrams for consonants and vowels (p.38))]

  • Sweet 1881

  • Passy-Jones 1907 organic alphabet

  • Organic-analogical: based on articulatory space; each phonetic category is consistently denoted by the same symbol (or symbol component); but symbols are more arbitrary than iconic.

    • Wilkins 1668 (analogical notation)

    [(Heselwood 2013: Figure 3.7)]

  • Sproat 1857

    [(Heselwood 2013: Figure 3.9)]

  • Analphabetic: each phonetic category is denoted by a discrete letter or number assigned to it.

    • Jespersen’s 1889 analphabetic notation

    • Pike’s 1943 “functional analphabetic symbolism”

  • Alphabetic: each phonetic category is denoted by a discrete symbol that is not decomposable into component parts:

    • First Grammarian (anonymous 12th-century Icelander): identified 36 phonemic and allophonic vowel qualities in Old Norse. 9 qualities x short/long x oral/nasal. May be the first to create phonetic symbols.

    • Ellis’ palaeotype notation. First worked with Sir Isaac Pitman in 1843 on shorthand.

    • Sweet’s romic notation (based on palaeotype)

    • IPA (based on romic): e.g. [d] expresses “voiced alveolar plosive consonant”. But IPA also allows additions to base symbols using diacritics like [d̰] or “pseudo-diacritics”, like [ɗ]. See structural classification by Heselwood (2013: 99).

Some questions to consider as a group:

  • What are some advantages and disadvantages to each type of notation?

  • How successfully does each type denote differences among phonetic categories, in both charts and transcriptions?

  • Are there symbols of the IPA that could be considered organic and/or iconic?

  • Which symbols of the IPA violate integrality/non-decompositionality?

  • Which symbols of the IPA refer to articulatory vs. acoustic or auditory features?

  • Let’s take a look at Hall et al. (2017), particularly at the Prosodic Model Handshape Coding (PMHC) and Sign Language Phonetic Annotation (SLPA) encoding of ASL sign for PAIR and accompanying text (pp.2083-2084). How do these notation systems fit in to the broad classes defined above?



It appeared to me desirable to have an alphabet consisting entirely of those types which we may expect to find in every printing office, and hence consisting only of Roman and Italic letters […]

(Alexander J. Ellis, “On palaeotype”, 1867: p.3)

On Canvas Discussion board: The IPA is the standard for phonetic notation, but it is clearly Eurocentric. (More on that in Week 5.) Let’s imagine the IPA was modeled not on romanization and European languages, but on a more featural system like Korean hangul (한글, also romanized as hangŭl, hangeul; read about the mess of Korean romanization on Language Log). What would phonetic notation look like? Together, let’s work on devising a hangul-inspired IPA, with the following properties:

  • Tautosyllabic sounds are grouped together in syllable-sized glyphs.

  • Symbols for different consonantal place of articulation share certain shapes, as do symbols for the different manners of articulation.

  • Symbols for vowels sharing height, backness, and rounding features should share certain shapes or properties. (This would make the system even more systematic than hangul.)

  • Sounds forming complex onsets and codas should be grouped together graphically.

Linguistic references on hangul:

Indigenous writing systems

In sounding out his words Sequoyah must have noticed the special qualities of [s] and tarried thoughtfully over its hissing sound. He assigned this sound a symbol of its own, Ꮝ making it the only consonant phoneme in Cherokee to have its own symbol. He must have lingered over its sound in his own name, as he always wrote ᏍᏏᏉᏯ, s-si-quo-ya, with an extra initial s.

(Amalia E. Gnanadesikan, The writing revolution, 2009: p.138)

Below are links to learn more about some indigenous writing systems of the Americas (e.g. Cherokee, Maya), Africa (e.g., Somali, Vai), and Asia (Hmong); see how the creators of these orthographies analyzed the sounds of their languages.

Phonetic notation of signed languages

Below are links to some contemporary work on phonetic notation for signed languages. For more general information on phonetic research on signed languages, see also the “Perspectives” tab for Week 7.


Primary sources


Week 3: Pronunciation


All vertebrates possess the power of producing sound, but speech is possessed only by the highest order of vertebrate — man. Speech is an intelligent molding of sounds into the various vowels and consonants. This molding of speech can only be accomplished by the mental process of association and the proper manipulation of the various speech organs; namely, the tongue, the teeth, the lips, the nose, etc. Voice may be likened to raw material; speech, to a finished product.

(Helen M. Peppard, The correction of speech defects, 1925: p. 39).

Changes in the description of the anatomy and physiology of speech:

Read Henry Sweet’s (1877) and Laura Soames’ (1891) descriptions of the relevant anatomy and physiology of speech, particularly pp. 1-25 (Sweet) and pp. xxvi-xxvii and pp. 10-17 (Soames). Also read Peppard’s (1925, Ch. 1-3) and Abercrombie’s (1967: Ch. 2). In a 1- or 2-page essay, address the following questions regarding changes from the 19th century to the mid-20th century:

  1. How have descriptions of the speech apparatus changed?

  2. How have descriptions of phonation and the vocal folds changed?

  3. How have descriptions of vowels changed?

  4. Who is the audience of each reference?

  5. (How) are “atypical” speech sounds discussed?


…English people need to know the sounds of their mother tongue for three reasons: (1) that they may speak it correctly; (2) that they may learn successfully the pronunciation of other languages, to which a knowledge of their own is the best introduction; and (3) that those who wish to study philology may have a key to that science.

(Laura Soames, An introduction to phonetics, 1891: p.1.)

Traditional phonetic description

  • “Impressionistic transcription and description of the speech sounds of languages, within a general framework.” (Keating 2014)

  • Part of this line of work includes phonetic notation and the IPA, which was in broad use during this time.

  • By no means a mid-1800s or Western invention! Recall, e.g. that in Sībawayhi’s 8th-century oeuvre known as Al-Kitāb (الكتاب), there is plenty of description of dialectal and idiolectal variation in Arabic (Sara 2007).

  • Phonetic description was, of course focused on pronunciation.

    • Who cared about pronunciation? Among others: language teachers and phoneticians; elocutionists and speech correctionists; dialectologists

Pronunciation guides and dictionaries

  • Many such cases in English-speaking countries:

Elocutionists and clinical phonetics

  • Elocutionist: “name given to both those who performed orations themselves and those who taught others how to perform” (Duchan 2021 website)

  • “Speech correctionists”: teachers, physicians, psychiatrists, often self-proclaimed

  • In the 19th century, “[e]locutionists moved beyond their traditional bounds, offering assistance to those whose speech was defective rather than unpolished and thus what loosely might be called a profession of speech correction, albeit an unorganised one, with its members bound together by their occupation rather than by any institution or commonly shared views” (Rockey 1980)

  • 19th century Europe:

    • German/Austrian physicians (e.g. Gutzmann father and son), treatment of stuttering, but also teaching deaf people to speak

    • UK: e.g. John Thelwall (1764–1834) is often considered Britain’s first “speech therapist” (Rockey 1980: p. 13)

  • USA, e.g.:

    • Melville and Graham Bell, elocutionists with focus on teaching the deaf to speak. In 1872 Graham Bell opened the School of Vocal Physiology in Boston, and taught deaf people and others using Visible Speech.

      [(G. Bell 1879: p.90)]

  • Edward Scripture and G. Oscar Russell, psychologists and experimental phoneticians who also studied speech defects and sought to teach deaf to speak. We’ll discuss their work in experimental phonetics next week.

  • Hiring of SLPs in public schools (e.g. Chicago and Detroit in 1910)

  • ASHA founded in 1925 at any informal meeting as the American Academy of Speech Correction

  • First Ph.D. in SLP: Sara Stinchfield (1926, University of Wisconsin), also ASHA’s first female president (1939-1940)

  • See historical overview by Judith Felson Duchan

  • Social factors:

    • 1920s: SLP established with large female membership

    • 1930s: “near demise” of discipline during Great Depression (Daniloff 1999: 12)

    • WWII: brought resurgence due to wounded veterans in need of speech and hearing rehab

  • For a short history of clinical phonetics in the US, see review by Daniloff (1999)

  • Linguists have long taken interest in speech errors. Fromkin (1973), Cutler (1979) and others consider Rudolf Meringer (1859-1931) to be the “father of the linguistic interest in speech errors” (Fromkin 1973: p.13); see Anwar (1981) for a history of linguistic analysis of speech errors by medieval Arab linguists: “The development of Arabic studies of phonetics, grammar, lexicography and dialectology, as well as the writing system, owes a great deal to the interest of Arab linguists in speech errors. The comprehensive and practical orientation of their studies of speech errors also characterized the development of Arabic linguistic studies in general” (Anwar 1981: p. 253).

Pronunciation and dialectology

  • Early work on dialectology often based on lexical variables, but plenty of phonetic-phonological data too.

  • Strong reaction against Neogrammarian Stammbaum model and uniformity of sound change (see Bottiglioni 1954, more in Week 9)

  • Dialectology in Europe

    • Georg Wenker (1852-1911), starting in 1877 mailed out dialect survey questionnaire across Northern Germany, later expanded across German-speaking territories. Eventually led to Deutscher Sprachatlas (German linguistic atlas), first published in 1926.

    • Jules Gilliéron (1854-1926), who published the Atlas linguistique de la France (ALF, Linguistic Atlas of France) starting in 1902.

      • With Edmond Edmont (1849-1926), who transcribed speakers’ pronunciations of common words.
    • Abbé Rousselot (1846–1924), who will discuss more next week as a “Father of Experimental Phonetics,” was dialectologist before he became known for experimental phonetics, focusing on regional differences across French/Occitan in France (see short overview with references in Puech 2006).

    • Karl Jaberg (1877-1958) and Jakob Jud (1882-1952), co-authors of Sprach- und Sachatlas Italiens und der Südschweiz (Linguistic and ethnographic atlas of Italy and southern Switzerland) starting in 1929

  • Dialectology in US:

    • 1889: founding of the American Dialect Society, focused on study of non-standard varieties.

    • 1925: fouding of American Speech

    • Hans Kurath (1891-1992) and collaborators published the Linguistic Atlas of New England (LANE) and corresponding Handbook of the Linguistic Geography of New England starting in 1939. Focus was on pronunciation of words by NORMs, but pronunciation by White urban and female speakers were also documented.

    • See review of history of American dialects by Pederson & Kretzschmar

    • Transcriptions based on IPA

[(Kurath 1939: p.26)]

  • Dialectology in East Asia

    • Also developed during this time, with European influence.

    • As in West, coinciding with (and influenced by) modern conception of nation-states and rise in nationalism and colonialism.

    • For dialectology in China, see references under “Perspectives” tab; for dialectology in Japan, see references under “Perspectives” tab for Week 4.

  • In mid-1900s, study of structural dialectology and sound change (e.g. Weinreich 1954, Martinet 1955) led to development of contemporary sociolinguistics

    • Focus on phonological structure → infrequent use of IPA, use of lexical sets

[(Weinreich 1954: p.393)]


Dialectologists and remembering slavery in the United States

The Library of Congress houses a collection a collection entitled Voices Remembering Slavery: Freed People Tell Their Stories.

Of note in this course is that among the interviewers were dialectologists Archibald A. Hill, Guy S. Lowman, and Lorenzo Dow Turner, “the first African American linguist to gain national and international recognition” (Wade-Lewis 1990: p. 189), in part by showing the influence and contribution of African languages to Gullah.

Social justice and EDI in clinical phonetics and speech-language pathology

The following links are to work discussing issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion within the fields of clinical phonetics and speech-language pathology. Also included are links to the discussion of disability and disorder vs. difference in these fields as well as in linguistics. For more information about inclusivity and phonetic notation of spoken languages (e.g. Braille IPA, extIPA), see the Perspectives tab for Week 5.

As we discussed, the history of phonetics is closely intertwined with that of oralism; for connections between the Deaf community and phonetics, and for recent research on the phonetics of sign languages, see relevant links under the Perspectives tab for Weeks 2 and 7.


Historical reviews

Primary sources


Week 4: Experimental phonetics


With some informal conversation beforehand, almost any person can be so put at his ease that when he turns to speak into the phonautograph or phonograph he feels quite at home and does not change his voice in any way. Much experience with the phonograph has shown that it requires only a little knack to put people at ease with the machine and lead them not to think of it.

(Edward Wheeler Scripture, The elements of experimental phonetics, 1902, p. 30.)

Experimental methods in phonetics at the dawn of the 20th century

Read through Scripture 1902, in particular Part I (“Curves of speech”) and Part III (“Production of speech”). In a 1- or 2-page essay, address at least some of the following questions:

  1. What methods described are not clear to you, and why? Focus here on what the methods measure, rather than on how specifically the methods described would measure what they’re supposed to. (For instance, you might not fully understand how ultrasound of the tongue surface works, but you can probably understand why phoneticians are interested in measuring the tongue surface via ultrasound.)

  2. What methods described by Scripture are no longer in use today? Why do you think they were abandoned?

  3. How does our contemporary understanding of speech articulation, acoustics, and aerodynamics differ from Scripture’s?

  4. Aside from exploring phonetic questions, Scripture occasionally describes other uses of these techniques. What were their uses outside of general phonetic inquiry?

  5. What are some ethical issues that UCSD’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) might have with some of these methods today? How would you as a researcher address them?


L’analyse physiologique n’est pas seulement légitime, elle est nécessaire. Sans elle, dans l’état actuel de nos connaissances, nous ne saurions ni distinguer sûrement les diverses articulations dans les tracés mécaniques de la voix, ni les définir d’une façon intelligible, ni rendre compte de leurs transformations. C’est dire que, sans elle, non seulement la phonétique n’existerait pas, mais que l’analyse physique elle-même du son serait privée d’un complément indispensable.

Physiological analysis is not only well founded, but also necessary. Given our current knowledge, without physiological analysis we would be unable to distinguish with any certainty the many articulations in the mechanical tracings of the voice or how to define them intelligibly and report on their transformations. As such, without physiological analysis, not only would phonetics not exist, but it would also be deprived of an indispensable complement to the physical analysis of sound.

(Abbé Rousselot, Principes de phonétique expérimentale, 1897: p. 315; translated by M. Garellek)

Who was doing experimental phonetics?

  • MacMahon (2013): mid- to late-1800s characterized by rapid growth in experimental phonetics. Driven by advances in instrumentation, particularly in medicine and physics.

  • Physicists and engineers interested in modeling the human voice and sythesizing vowels: e.g. Kratzenstein’s (1780) and Kempelen’s (1791) ‘speaking machines’ (modern-day replica of the latter from the Phonetics Department of Saarland University can be found at this Youtube link), Erasmus Darwin (who also investigated stuttering).

    • Work continued throughout 1800s, e.g. Robert Willis’s well-cited (1830) paper ‘On the vowel sounds and on reed organ-pipes,’ modeling vowels as a function of a uniform tube excited by free reed in a sliding piston (to vary the tube’s length), and most famously Herman von Helmholtz’s (1863) Die Lehre von Tonempfindungen [ usu. in English (On the) sensations of tone]. There he used tuning forks and glass globes (today “Helmholtz resonators”) to “establish some of the most basic concepts of speech acoustics, measuring the fundamental frequency and harmonics of the human voice, and also putting forth the formant theory of vowel resonances (though himself not using the word ‘formant’)” (Collins & Mees 1999: p. 472).

    • We will discuss implications for vowel acoustics in Week 6.

  • Physiologists, first particularly in Germany. E.g. from Brücke (1849) we owe the terms “dental” and “alveolar” with their contemporary phonetic meaning. For more information on experimental phonetics in 19th-century Germany, see discussion by Kohler (1981).

    • Development of laryngoscopy: Babington (1829, physician/scholar of Tamil), Garcia (1854), recounted in 1881 as “One September day in 1854, I was strolling in a garden of the Palais Royal, preoccupied with the ever-recurring wish so often repressed as unrealisable, when suddenly I saw the two mirrors of the laryngoscope in their respective positions, as if actually present before my eyes.”

    • Laryngoscopy was further developed and explored by Czermak.

  • Philologists and linguists

    • Ellis, a trained mathematician, viewed phonetics as a branch of acoustics: “The science of Phonetics embraces all that portion of the general science of Acoustics, which relates to the sounds produced by the organs of speech; or, in the more limited sense in which we here propose to employ the term, that portion of Acoustics which relates to the Significant Sounds of Language” (Ellis 1848: p. 1). Later argued for relying on “sound-curves” (“the visible symbol of the invisible disturbance of the air,” Ellis 1874: p.114) via phonautograph/phonograph over symbols for phonetic exploration.

    • Daniel Jones (Cardinal Vowels), Chiba (Japanese accent, Perturbation Theory), Stephen Jones, among others.

  • “Speech scientists” and psychologists such as Rousselot (1897), Scripture (1902), Russell (1928), etc. In Scripture’s 1925 obituary for Rousselot, he states (p. 165) “Experimental work [on speech] was begun by men in other sciences, such as Brücke, Danders, Hermann, Helmholtz and others–nearly all physiologists, but the unification of effort into a science was the work of Rousselot. He is fully entitled to be called the ‘Father of Experimental Phonetics’.”

    • Records of tension between experimental phoneticians and the linguists/philologists working in traditional impressionistic phonetics. E.g. In Scripture’s 1936 autobiography, he writes (p. 254: “The usual linguistic phonetics consists solely of the study of printed letters and guesswork on the basis of what is supposed to be heard by the ear and felt in the mouth.” But linguists also appreciated the value of experimental phonetics, e.g. Bloomfield (1933: p. 85): “Only two kinds of linguistic records are scientifically relevant. One is the mechanical record of gross acoustic features, such as is produced in the phonetics laboratory. The other is record in terms of phonemes, ignoring all features that are not distinctive in the language. Until our knowledge of acoustics has progressed far beyond its present state, only the latter kind of record can be used for any study that takes into consideration the meaning of what is spoken.”

    • Later Stetson, trained in chemistry and biology, later to become professor of psychology. Stetson too had spent time (1922-1923) in Paris working with Rousselot. He would focus on the motor processes involved in speech. His Motor Phonetics (1951) developed a theory of phonology centered around syllables, defined articulatorily as “chest-pulses.” It was subject to strong critiques at the time (in references, see reviews by Fry, Twaddell, Ladefoged et al.), and has since been abandoned. But Stetson has had a longlasting influence on linguistic phonetics and speech science, and many ideas from Motor Phonetics continue to be influential for speech-motor control, articulatory phonetics.

  • Just about everyone was working on questions concerning how experimental phonetics can be used for speech therapy and for teaching the deaf how to speak.

Techniques, tools, and instrumentation

  • Vocal tract imaging:

    • Palatography: technique first announced by Coles (1872).

    • Mouth/tongue measurement: vocal tract diagrams of speech began appearing in mid-1800s (e.g. Brücke 1856, more abstractly in Bell 1867, Visible Speech). Measurement of tongue body during vowels by Grandgent 1890 (see also discussion in the mf 1890(5:3), pp.30-31), Atkinson (1897), who created the “Mouth Measurer.”

    • Photography: of visible articulators, but also for palatograms/linguograms, X-rays, and kymograms. Used in study of laryngeal vibrations (e.g. Moore 1938)

    • X-rays: discovery announced by Röntgen (1895). German laryngologist Max Scheier credited with pointing out the potential value of X-rays in speech research (Scheier 1897). See early review by Macmillan & Keleman (1952). Crucial use by Daniel Jones in development of Cardinal Vowel theory; see e.g. Jones 1917 and first Cardinal Vowel diagram in his (1917) English Pronouncing Dictionary. For more discussion, see Collins & Mees (1995), Collins & Mees (1999: pp. 173-182) and Ashby (2016: pp. 257-272). G. Oscar Russell (e.g. 1928, 1929) made X-rays of vowels (without head stabilization).

  • Air flow and pressure, movements of speech organs:

    • Kymography (mechanical transduction of speech movements): developed by Carl Ludwig for medical purposes, but “[a]lmost all of the other developments and refinements in kymographic technique as it was used in speech research can be attributed to Étienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904)” (Ashby 22016: p. 87). Marey is credited with the use of tambours (drum-like pressure transducers), starting in 1861, allowing the kymograph to be used for pressure variations as well as acoustic vibrations.

    • Kymography was first applied to speech research by Rosapelly (1876), a physician, who used it for nasal flow, laryngeal vibration, and lip movement:

      [(Ashby 2016: Figure 2.17)]

  • Ashby (2016: p. 92) attributes the first use of a Marey tambour to detect acoustic vibration in the speech wave to Viëtor 1893. But often conflation of airflow and acoustics (Ashby 2016: pp. 93-98).

  • Ashby (2016: p. 102): “Though the work of Rosapelly was the foundation of all later kymographic work on speech, the fact remains that the earliest ‘kymograms’ of speech appear to be those published by Barlow in 1874, though of course these were of a single channel, and obtained with somewhat different apparatus [the logograph].”

[(Barlow (1880)’s logograph)]
  • Some of earliest experimental work on coarticulation (e.g. Menzerath & de Lacerda 1933) made use of kymography.

    • By mid-1900s: X-rays, air flow and pressure, EMG were all in regular use. Crucial for development of the myoelastic-aerodynamic theory of vocal fold vibration (van den Berg 1958). Early 1900s saw developing field of phyiosological/articulatory phonetics for the study of voice (e.g. discussion by Luchsinger 1950; see more current review in Minifie 1999), and cineradiography (e.g. to study velopharyngeal closure; see e.g. Moll 1960 and other studies by Kenneth Moll & colleagues at Iowa.)
  • Acoustic display/analysis, of which we can distinguish (after Phillips 1987 and Ashby 2016):

    • Membrane methods: acoustic and mechanical

      • Producing a direct record: e.g. phonautograph (de Martinville 1857), which plots a wave representing sound impinging on a membrane. When a kymograph has a mouth channel to record acoustic waves of speech, then it functions as a phonautograph. Other techniques of this kind are manometric flames (Koenig 1862), for which pressure variations affect a membrane, in turn modulating the flow of gas to a burner. See photos in Scripture 1902:

        [(Scripture (1902: p. 26))]

    • Phonograph (Edison 1877): stylus vibrates and cuts into revolving wax (originally foil) cylinder; vs. Gramophone (Berliner 1889): recordings made on discs. The terms came to be largely synonymous/regionally-distinguished. See also It’s history” (Youtube video).

      [(Scripture (1902: p. 33))]

    • Electrical methods:

      • Electrical oscillograph (Blondel 1893, further developed by Duddell), with oscillograms of speech sounds appearing in early 1900s (Duddell 1907, Cohen & Shepherd 1907, Duddell 1909). But only taken up by phoneticians later (e.g. Chiba 1935, see Perspectives tab) shortly before the advent of spectrographic research. Primarily used to estimate f0 and vowel resonances.

      • By mid-1900s: plenty of vocal tract modeling by engineers, linguists, speech scientists, with research closely intertwined with spectrograph, to be discussed in Week 7. At Bell Telephone Labs: electrical models of vocal tract (e.g. Dunn 1950, work by Peterson and colleagues). At Haskins, under leadership of Franklin Cooper and Alvin Liberman (see Week 7). Minifie (1999: p. 27): “Katherine Harris stimulated and guided much of the physiological research on speech production [at Haskins] from the 1950s until 1990s. Harris is known both for pioneering speech perception work with Cooper’s Pattern Playback (e.g. Harris et al. 1958) as well as early EMG work (e.g. Harris et al. 1961). But EMG only came to be more widely used after publication of John Basmajian’s Muscles alive (1962).

Speech technology

Speech technology can be defined as any artificial means that enhance the communicative functions of speech. Obvious examples are a) speech communications at a distance, b) automatic speech recognition, c) speech synthesis and d) medical treatments for deficiencies in human speech and hearing. With this definition, we see that speech technology has a long history.

(Ben Gold, “Speech technology,” 1999: p. 32)
  • Telephone (first patent by A. G. Bell 1876, read also about scramble for patent and earlier precursors in Bell 2021). Also led to Bell Telephone Co. and its research arm, Bell Telephone Labs.

    • Speech coding: vocoder for voice transmission (Dudley 1939). Further development during and after WWII, and eventually led to LPC.
[(Dudley (1939: p. 171))]
  • Speech synthesis: both mechanical (e.g. Miller 1922) and electric (e.g. Stewart 1922), including Dudley (1939)’s Voder and Cooper’s Pattern Playback (see also Week 7 for Haskins research). Contemporary reviews of history of speech synthesis can be found in Gold et al. 2011 and Story 2019.

  • ASR: system developed at Bell Labs (Davis et al. 1952) “may have been the first true word recognizer” (Gold 1999: p. 34).


Phonetics and linguistics in Japan

Had Prof. T. Chiba of the Tokyo School of Foreign Languages been able to attend this Congress, he would have described the founding and work of his splendid phonetics laboratory at Tokyo—probably the best equipped one in the world. He would also have presented the recently published report of his research on Japanese sounds, this containing a complete set of diagrams (oscillograms, X-ray photos, and intonation curves) for every sound or phoneme, together with his dissertation on the nature of the Japanese “accent”. In his absence, I would commend this document to your attention.”

(Harold E. Palmer, “Some notes on the place of phonetics in Japan”, ICPhS II, 1935 p. 304.)

Japanese phoneticians have played an important role in phonetic research; the links below provide an overview of the history of phonetics and linguistics in Japan. See also references under “Historical reviews” in Week 6 (Acoustic theory) to learn more about the essential role of Chiba and Kajiyama’s Perturbation Theory (1941) to the modern Acoustic Theory of Speech Production.

Abbé Rousselot and Ainu fieldwork at the 1910 Japan–British Exhibition

But I had another and a most unforeseen opportunity of meeting my Ainus once more: viz., the Anglo-Japanese Exhibition in London, 1910, where I found four male and as many female natives of Hokaido [sic], from the district of the Sara river […] They were extremely pleased to find themselves treated, not as curiosities or beasts in a show, but as men; my talks with them raised the level of their dignity as members of the same human family, and they felt deeply grateful.

It was during this Exhibition that I succeeded in checking my transcriptions. Abbé Rousselot, the illustrious Professor of Phonetics in the College de France, came over to London for the purpose of investigating the Ainu speech, and communicated to me the results obtained, several of which I shall notice in this Preface.

(Bronisław Piłsudski, Materials for the study of the Ainu language and folklore, 1912: pp.xiv-xv.)

In the first half of the 20th century, Japanese colonialism coincided both with growth in phonetic scholarship in Japan, as well as with increased Western research on languages spoken in Japanese-controlled territories. For example, the 1910 Japan-British exhibition in London included dehumanizing “displays” of indigenous Taiwanese and Ainu villages and people: “In true colonial fashion, these peoples were presented as ethnographical curiosities destined to disappear in the wake of Japanese manifest destiny, with, for example, the Ainu being described as ‘a doomed race’” (Hennessey 2018: 31). (Similar grotesque “displays” of Native Americans took place at exhibitions in the US, including at the 1915 Panama-California Exhibition and the 1935 California Pacific Exposition in San Diego.)

The Polish revolutionary and ethnologist Bronisław Piłsudski, who had previously done field research with the Ainu while in exile in Sakhalin, apparently invited Abbé Rousselot to come to the exhibition to help elucidate certain aspects of Ainu phonetics; read his account from the link below:


Historical reviews

Primary sources


Week 5: The IPA


əz membəz wɪl nəu, ðɪs ɪz ðə lɑːst nʌmbər əv ðɪ m.f. ɪn ɪts preznt fɔːm. ɑː dʒɜːnl wəz pʌblɪʃt fə ðə fɜːst taɪm ɪn 1889, ðəʊ priːvjəslɪ, frəm 1886, ɪt əd əpɪəd əz “ðə fənetɪk tiːtʃə”. ɪn 1889, ɑːr əsəʊsɪeɪʃn hæd 321 membəz ɪn 18 kʌntrɪz, ðə mədʒɒrətɪ kʌmɪŋ frəm *swiːdn, *dʒɜːmənɪ ən *frɑːns. tədeɪ, wiː hæv mɔː ðn 800 membəz ɪn əʊvə 40 kʌntrɪz, ðə greɪt mədʒɒrətɪ kʌmɪŋ frəm ðə *jʊnaɪtɪd steɪts ən *greɪt brɪtn.

As members will know, this is the last number of the m.f. in its present form. Our journal was published for the first time in 1889, though previously, from 1886, it had appeared as “The Phonetic Teacher”. In 1889, our association had 321 members in 18 countries, the majority coming from Sweden, Germany, and France. Today, we have more than 800 members in over 40 countries, the great majority coming from the United States and Great Britain.

(A. C. Gimson & J. C. Wells, “ðə lɑːst m.f. [The last m.f.]”, 1970: p. 28)

1) Changes within and across the mf and JIPA

First, read the first and last issues of the mf: Describe some of the changes you notice. Changes can be in terms of the scope of the journal, the types of articles and the languages published, size of issue, IPA membership. What do you think is responsible for some of the changes?

Next, compare last issue of the mf to the first issue of JIPA. Describe some of the changes described, and others you notice. Changes can be in terms of the scope of the journal, the types of articles and the languages published, size of issue.

Then, compare the first and latest issue of JIPA. Describe some of the changes described, and others you notice. Changes can be in terms of the scope of the journal, the types of articles and the languages published, the size of issues, and the diversity in authors and topics. What do you think is responsible for some of the changes?

2) Changes to the IPA chart

On Canvas you’ll find samples of the IPA charts. Describe some of the changes that have been made to the chart over the years. Are there any features of older charts that you think should have been retained?


wið ə vjuː tə kəmbain ækjursi, eliɡəns, ənd kənviːnjəns fə printiŋ, ai əv divaizd ðə fɔlouiŋ sistim əv “toun-letəz” fə ðə kənsidəreiʃn̩ əv felou founitiʃn̩z.

With a view to combine accuracy, elegance, and convenience for printing, I have devised the following system of “tone-letters” for the consideration of fellow phoneticians.

(Yuan-Ren Chao, “ə sistim əv”toun-letəz” [A system of “tone letters”]“, 1930: p. 24.)

Early years: From FTA to API, FT to mf

Inspired heavily by MacMahon 1986

  • Dhi Fonètik Tîtcerz’ Asóciécon (FTA), founded in 1886, with first journal issue appearing May 1886 as Dhi Fonètik Tîtcer (FT). Regular meetings held in Paris.

  • Paul Passy was “driving force behind both the FTA and the FT”. Intellectual climate: reconsideration of methods of teaching modern languages: “The German phonetician, Wilhelm Viëtor, had recently stated the case very forcibly for educationalists to reconsider their methods of teaching modern languages (‘Der Sprachunterricht muß umkehren!’)” (MacMahon 1986: p.30).

  • “To join the Association was quite simple: one had to have experience of teaching English by the ‘phonetic’ method, or one had to promise to use it in future.” (MacMahon 1986: p.31)

  • January 1889: FTLe Maître Phonétique; FTA → L’Association Phonétique des Professeurs de Langues Vivantes [Phonetic Association of Professors of Living Languages] or AP, with French as the official language.

  • 1897, the AP became the L’Association Phonétique Internationale (API). French was the official language until 1970 when the mfJIPA. That’s also when the journal officially changed from using phonetic script to language-specific orthography.

  • From the start, calls to form an ‘International Phonetic Association,’ but opposition due to lack of consensus on phonetic alphabet and lack of ‘phoneticians.’ MacMahon attributes the (gradual) change to the appearance of phonetic articles such as Jespersen 1888, Sweet 1889, Soames 1889, and specimens in 1890-1891 on Chinese and Armenian).

  • First 30 years: bulk of members were primary and secondary school teachers, but also major figures in phonetics, linguistics, and philology like de Courtenay, Melville Bell, Gilliéron, Jespersen, de Saussure, Scripture, Sievers, Storm, Sweet, etc. The size of the journal increased significantly during this period as well. MacMahon (1986: p. 34) treats this period (up to WWI) as the Association’s heyday: “It was large, its members were active in promoting the case for phonetics in language-teaching, the journal was able to cope with the differing demands made on it by phoneticians and language teachers, and carried a wide variety of material. In short, the Association knew what it was doing, and it knew it was getting results in its basic policy of pressing for the introduction of phonetics-based teaching in schools – in certain countries at least.

  • Effect of WWI on the Association was “quite calamitous” (MacMahon 1986: p.34): No mf was published between 1914-1923, well after WWI, but during that period Passy and Jones (Secretary) published Chatterji’s Brief sketch of Bengali phonetics (1921) and Paget’s Vowel resonances (1922). Membership never recovered to 1914 levels.

  • Mostly traditional descriptive phonetics: little experimental phonetic work, and even less interest in phonology.

Principles of the IPA as supplements to the mf

  • 1904 principles:

  • Principles of teaching, e.g “1. - The first thing to be studied in a foreign language is not the more or less archaic language of literature, but the spoken language of daily conversation; 2. - The teacher’s first care should be to make his pupils perfectly familiar with the sounds of the foreign language. To attain this end he will make use of a phonetic transcription, which should be employed to the exclusion of the traditional spelling during the first period” (p. 3)

  • Phonetic alphabet:

  • Necessary for shorthand, dialect/language comparison, for teaching foreign languages, to “take down a language that has hitherto been unwritten” (p. 5), learning to read.

  • Should apply to all spoken languages

  • Need for modifiers: “Various devices make it possible to represent many shades of sound” (p. 9). Mentioned are diacritics for voicing, voiceless “breath,” whisper, syllabic. ʃˢ “means a variety of ʃ rather resembling s” (p. 9).

  • (p. 10) “Important remark. – But, whatever may be done in this way, it must remain a general principle to leave out everything self-evident, and everything that can he explained once for all. This allows us to dispense almost completely with the modifiers, and with a good many other signs, except in scientific works and in introductory explanations.”

  • 1912 principles:

    • Mention of the official examination in phonetics, still in effect. See recent discussion by P. Ashby.

    • Discussion of broad vs. narrow transcriptions (pp. 14-15), and merits of each.

    • “Principles of transcription for languages hitherto not transcribed” (pp. 16-17)

    • Suggestions for further developments of alphabet (pp. 17-18)

  • 1949 principles

    • When two sounds occurring in a given language are employed for distinguishing one word from another, they should whenever possible be represented by two distinct letters without diacritical marks […]

    • When two sounds are so near together acoustically that there is no likelihood of their being employed in any language for distinguishing words, they should, as a rule, be represented by the same letter. Separate letters or diacritical marks may, however, be used to distinguish them in “narrow” transcriptions or in scientific investigations.

    • In applying the alphabet to any particular language, regard should be had to two fundamental phonetic principles: the theory of “phonemes” and the theory of “cardinal sounds” and especially “cardinal vowels”.

  • Current principles in place since 1989 Kiel Convention

Structure of the mf

  • Articles (artiklə də fɔ̃), book reviews (kɔ̃trɑ̃ːdy), miscellaneous section (divɛːr, including social updates in the famiːj fɔnetik (phonetic family)), correspondence (kɔrɛspɔ̃ːdɑ̃ːs), administrative section (parti administratiːv). Also:

    • parti dez elɛːv (students’ section): phonetic transcriptions for students

    • spesimɛn (specimens): transcripts of different languages, often using the “North Wind and the Sun” fable.

The Alphabet

  • Started out as modification of Pitman & Ellis’s phonotypic alphabet (Pitman 1847).

  • 1888: Cs and Vs with examples from English, French, and German. Diacritics for length, “weak” and “strong” stress, vowel nasalization, circumflex accent for “long and narrow” vowels, use of adjacent “h” for rendering Cs voiceless.

  • MacMahon (1986: p. 37) states that “by the 1890s the alphabet had developed to the point at which it could be regarded as a tool for general phonetic work; this reflected once more Passy’s desire to get away from the rather limited aim of the Association when it was founded.”

  • 1900: first full chart. Vowels described as close to open, palatal to velar. What else do we notice?

  • 1926: description section below chart, including clicks, ejectives, secondary articulations, length, stress, pitch (8 types, no mid-level), and modifying diacritics. Also vowel chart looks like Cardinal Vowel system (Jones 1917) starting in 1926. What else do we notice?

  • Gradually more detail, some of which hasn’t survived (e.g. in 1949: weak aspiration, lips more spread)

  • Chao’s 1930 tone letters only appeared after 1989 Kiel Convention. Mid-level pitch only came in then too.

Cardinal Vowel theory

  • According to Collins & Mees (1999: p. 174), use of “cardinal vowel” is first attributed to Sweet in his Handbook of Phonetics (1877:11-12). Ladefoged (1967: p. 67) attributes first use of “cardinal” for vowels to Melville Bell’s Visible speech (1867).

  • D. Jones (1917): Cardinal vowel system, with [i] and [ɑ] defined articulatorily (CV 1 [i] very front and top with spread lips; CV 5 [ɑ] with back of tongue lowered and retracted as far as possible). The remaining six main categories defined auditorily in equidistant steps. Ladefoged (1967: p. 70) states that Jones nevertheless considered “that a point on a cardinal vowel diagram actually specifies an approximate tongue position.”

  • S. Jones (1929): X-ray data of complete set of cardinal vowels.

    [(Ladefoged (1967: p. 71))]

  • Thorough overview in 1949 principles of the IPA.

  • Pfitzinger & Niebuhr (2011: p. 162): “Jones’ vowel trapezium finally offers an acceptable compromise for German and English phoneticians alike as it appears to embody a perfect symbiosis of the German triangle and the English quadrilateral. Jones’ system becomes more convincing, when one reviews the historical development of vowel charts, because the fundamental difference to all former systems lies in turning away from the attempt to superimpose articulatory and acoustic relations. Instead, he works only quasi-articulatorily and mostly perceptually, which is an approach none before him adopted but which was evidently quite successful since its main features have stood the test to this day.”

  • IPA retained cardinal vowel system, though see report from 1989 Kiel Convention on non-peripheral vowels. Four additional central vowels [ɘ ɵ ɜ ɞ] were later added following 1990 proposal by Catford (though he had proposed that [ɞ] be represented as something like [ᴐ̴]).

Changing the alphabet: the vowel thᴀt wᴀsn’t meᴀnt to be:

  • Proposal, e.g. Barry & Trouvain (2008)

    • Lack of central open (low central) vowel represents logical and practical gap in the IPA vowel chart

    • Use of /a/ or [a] as the de facto low central vowel, particularly for triangular vowel systems

    • Proposal to add [ᴀ] for this vowel (also included other alternatives, like redefining [æ] and [a])

  • Response, e.g. by Recasens (2009)

    • Main objection: would result in higher number of phonetic symbols for [a̠] than for any other vowel of the IPA chart. “[W]e are dealing essentially with a single vowel exhibiting a single pharyngeal place of articulation” (p.231).

    • Proposal: use [a] for the front part of the low vowel space and [ɑ] for the back part. If only one low vowel, either symbol could be used depending on whether the vowel is rather front or rather back. Symbol [ɐ] could be kept for transcribing schwa-like, centralized realizations of [a̠]; [æ] for realizations between [a] and [ɛ].

  • Response, e.g. by Ball (2009)

    • Main objection: redefining values of [æ] and [a]. “It would at a stroke render all previous IPA texts that use these symbols no longer accurate, or no longer readable by anyone who knows only the new values of these symbols.” (p.234)
  • Reply from Barry & Trouvain (2009) to previous discussion.

  • The IPA Council then receives a formal request to vote, further debate is held (now by email), followed by vote.



The system here introduced is one adopted by several thousands of linguists, teachers and students, all over the world. It is based on the latin alphabet, which is used by a great majority of civilized nations […]

(Paul Passy, “Aim and principles of the International Phonetic Association”, 1904: p.6.)

Inclusivity and the IPA

A major aim of the IPA (alphabet) is to be able to transcribe all sounds that occur in spoken languages. Some ways that phoneticians have aimed at increasing inclusivity include the creation of Braille IPA, as well as the ExtIPA for symbols for “disordered” speech. Learn more about these here:

The IPA chart in other languages

A recent development by the IPA (association) has been to generate official IPA charts whose metatext appears in other languages; see examples at the IPA website. On that page, you can also learn about how to submit your own translation of the IPA chart metatext.


Around the Kiel Convention

Primary sources


Week 6: Acoustics


When the various sounds are breathed —either in or out— without sounding the vocal chords, each one appears, when analysed by ear, to consist almost entirely of a characteristic combination of two component sounds.

(Sir Richard Paget, Vowel resonances, 1922, p. 1.)

Vowel acoustics before Chiba & Kajiyama (1941) and Fant (1960)

Read through Paget (1922) – only 12 pages! In a 1- or 2-page essay, address all of the following questions:

  1. What is/are the source(s) of sound for Paget? Does his conception differ from our contemporary understanding? (Explain your answer)

  2. Does Paget treat the voice source of vowels (the “larynx tone”) as independent from the filter (the “vowel resonances”)? Does this differ from contemporary understanding? (Explain your answer)

  3. How many vowel resonances are there, and where do they come from? Does this differ from our contemporary understanding? (Explain your answer)

  4. Can vowel resonances coincide in frequency? Does this differ from our contemporary understanding? (Explain your answer)

For a review of our “contemporary understanding,” you may wish to consult Johnson’s Acoustic and auditory phonetics, particularly Sections 6.1, 6.2, and 6.4.


We might continue this paper indefinitely. But I have said enough to indicate that a physiological study has much to offer in a consideration of the question as to what causes vowel and voice quality differences. I believe also, that I have cited enough evidence to prove that the cavity tone theories merely skim the surface. And to prove that we are not justified in disregarding the function of the hard and soft surfaces which line the cavities. Or in minimizing the function of the vocal cords and interior larynx including the epiglottis which of themselves may do much to change both qualities.

(G. Oscar Russell, The mechanism of speech, 1929: p. 109.)

Vowel descriptions

Inspired heavily by Ladefoged 1967 and Pfitzinger & Niebuhr 2011

  • Robinson (1617: image 25): arguably first attempt at categorizing vowels based on tongue position (Ladefoged 1967: pp. 63-63).

  • Wallis (1653): no diagrams, but restatement/tabulation in Brightland (1711).

    • [(Ladefoged (1967: p. 65))]
  • Reyher (1679): semi-circular arrangement of vowels [a e i o u ə]

    • See Fig. 2 in Pfitzinger & Niebuhr 2011
  • Hellwag (1781): first to use triangular vowel space, and allowed for intermediate qualities. “Gradibus hisce scriptione designatis infiniti alii possunt inter polari, quos gentes linguis et linguarum varietatibus differentes inter loquendum constanter exprimunt. Nonne sic omnes , quas unquam edidit humana lingua, vocales ac diphthongi quasi mathematice secundum gradus poterunt determinari?” (§ 57). “Between these rows and steps countless others could be added that are used by people of different languages and dialects: perhaps, by this, all vowels and diphthongs any man has ever uttered could be specified mathematically by levels” (Pfitzinger & Niebuhr 2011: p. 161).

  • Ladefoged (p. 65) states that “By the first part of the nineteenth century the description of vowels had become standardized in a form only slightly different from that originally put forth in Wallis 1653.”

    [(Ladefoged (1967: p. 66))]

  • Melville Bell (1867): description of vowels in terms of two dimensions, height (high, mid, low) and position of highest point of tongue (front, mixed, back):

    [(Ladefoged (1967: p. 68)]

    • Also included rounding and “primary” vs. “wide” (opening between back of mouth to throat): total of 36 pseudo-articulatory categories (+nasalization, glottalization, length as modifiers).
  • Sweet (1890) doubled Bell’s system to 72 categories by including a “shifted” position for each of the 9 main categories.

  • Passy (1888): auditory representation of French vowels, though described in articulatory terms.

    [(Ladefoged (1967: p. 70))]

  • Jones (1917): Cardinal vowel system, with [i] and [ɑ] defined articulatorily and the rest auditorily. Ladefoged (1967: p. 70) states that Jones nevertheless considered “that a point on a cardinal vowel diagram actually specifies an approximate tongue position.”

Acoustics of vowels

  • Willis (1830): modeling vowels as a function of a uniform tube excited by free reed in a sliding piston (to vary the tube’s length). Two tones were produced: that of the reed (source), and of a particular harmonic amplified by the tube (filter).

  • “Cord tone” (pitch of voice, due to vocal fold vibrations) vs. “cavity tone” (resonances)

    • Often unclear on what cord tone was derived from: see Russell 1928
  • Term “formant” from Ludimar Hermann, first attested in paper by Hermann & Matthias (1894).

How many resonances?

  • Helmholtz (1863): elaborated on Willis’ theory. Claimed that vowels [a o u] had one resonance while vowels [e i ø y] had two.

  • Graham Bell (1879): always two resonances for the vowel categories of Visible speech. Paget (1922) also thought there were 2

    [(Paget (1922: p. 4))]

  • “After this, for the next 65 years, apart from the further observations of other vowels by Lloyd (1891), Paget (1923), Crandall (1925), Fletcher (1929), and others, the acoustic theory of vowel quality did not advance to any extent.” (Ladefoged 1967: p.72)

    • Note that Crandall thought there were more than 2 resonances (also Wheatstone 1837)

Nature of resonances

  • Enhanced harmonics (Wheatstone, Helmholtz, Miller)

  • “Inharmonic” resonances that are added by vocal tract, unrelated to source (Willis, Hermann, Scripture)

  • Both of these are correct, as we now know from Perturbation theory and source-filter theory

Perturbation theory and the acoustic theory of speech production

  • Chiba & Kajiyama (1941)’s Perturbation theory:

    • Measured 3D vocal tract (area function) from X-ray images, also palatography and laryngoscopy.

    • Calculated resonance frequencies from the data, circuit theory

    • First to study the variation of vocal tract dimensions with sex/gender and age (Fant 2001)

    • Vocal tract has many resonances

    • Each resonance: standing wave between glottis and mouth, with nodes and antinodes

      [(Johnson (2012: Fig. 6.7, p. 139))]

    • Articulations modify formant frequencies if:

      • Constriction at antinode → lower frequency

      • Constriction at node → higher frequency

    • Couldn’t calculate each resonance precisely, Fant’s so-called “F-pattern” (1960: pp. 24-26)

    • Space pattern theory of vowel recognition: back vowels are perceived by spectral maximum around both F1/F2; front vowels by two spectral maxima (F1 and F2)

  • Fant 1960:

    • Arai 2004: “Fant encountered”Chiba and Kajiyama,” perhaps when he visited MIT [Fant, p.c.]. Their view of phonation and articulation merged with Fant’s filter theory. It lead to the so-called “source-filter theory of vowel production” in the modern acoustic theory of speech production (Fant, 1960), and this is one of the reasons that Chiba and Kajiyama is counted as a classic in a history of science (Maekawa and Honda, 2001).”

    • “resonance” (maximum of filter function) vs. “formant” (peaks derived from source spectrum x filter function)

      • “Conceptually these should be held apart but in most instances resonance frequency and formant frequency may be used synonymously (Fant 1960: p. 20)

      • so both harmonic and inharmonic theories of vowel resonances were right: resonances are independent of the source, but source harmonics get enhanced by resonance and appear as formants

    • F-pattern: F1, F2, F3, F4, etc.: “The F-pattern coincides closely with the observable formant peak frequencies of sounds produced from a glottal, preferably voiced, source. (p. 25; see also pp. 209-211)

    • “When extracting data from spectrographic studies of speech for the purpose of phonetic descriptions the general rule is thus: the vowel spectrum is sufficiently specified by the F-pattern, whereas the consonant spectrum should in addition be specified by its spectrum envelope.

    • X-rays of vocal tract during Russian vowels to study relation between articulation-acoustics “primarily on a distinctive feature level.” We will discuss Jakobson, Fant, and Halle’s (1952) work on distinctive feature theory in Week 9. “The only investigation besides the present one that has been concerned with the mapping of vocal tract area functions is that of Chiba and Kajiyama (1941), and it was therefore natural to consult their data in doubtful cases [of vocal tract dimensions]” (Fant 1960: p. 97).

      [(Fant (1960: Fig. 2.3-1))]

    [(Fant (1960: Fig. 2.3-2 and 2.3-3))]


Miss Fischer-Jørgensen says that it is unlikely that the linguist can become a communications engineer, but that he should not be discouraged by this from concerning himself with the problems presented by present-day studies in acoustics and communications that have linguistic bearing.

(Eileen M. Whitley, discussion in response to report by Eli Fischer-Jørgensen’s “What can the new techniques of acoustic phonetics contribute to linguistics?” at ICL VIII, 1958: p.454.)

Women in speech acoustics

Many of the contemporary advances in the acoustic theory of speech production are being led by women acousticians. Learn more about some of those working in speech communication who have been elected fellows of the Acoustical Society of America:

  • Abeer Alwan (2003, For contributions to research in speech production and perception and applications to speech technology)
  • Deniz Başkent (2017, For contributions to our understanding of acoustic and electric auditory and speech perception)
  • Mary E. Beckman (1993, For contributions that have strengthened interactions between research in speech and in phonology)
  • Tessa C. Bent (2017, For contributions to the perception of variability in speech)
  • Virginia A. Best (2019, For contributions to understanding the impact of listener factors on spatial hearing of speech)
  • Sheila Blumstein (1982, For pioneering studies of aphasia and speech perception)
  • Suzanne Boyce (2008, For contributions to speech production and communication disorders)
  • Ann R. Bradlow (2008, For contributions to variation in speech intelligibility)
  • Emily Buss (2010, For contributions to complex sound perception)
  • Dani M. Byrd (2007, For research on the relation of linguistic structures to the temporal realization of speech)
  • Rachel K. Clifton (2001, For contributions to auditory perception and sound localization)
  • Cynthia G. Clopper (2019, For contributions to the acoustics and perception of dialect variation)
  • Carol Y. Espy-Wilson (2005, For contributions to speech communication and mentoring)
  • Katherine Safford Harris (1967, For her research on speech perception and production and for her services to the Society)
  • Sarah Hawkins (2007, For contributions to speech perception and phonetics)
  • Valerie L. Hazan (2015, For contributions to the understanding of the intelligibility of speech)
  • Karen S. Helfer (2015, For contributions to speech perception in aging)
  • Ewa Jacewicz (2020, For contributions to the understanding of spectral and temporal dynamics in speech acoustics and perception)
  • Patricia A. Keating (2004, For contributions to the integration of the phonetic and linguistic aspects of speech production)
  • Diane Kewley-Port (1993, For contributions in speech perception and applied speech technology)
  • Jody E. Kreiman (2007, For contributions to synthesis and perception of voice)
  • Patricia Kuhl (1990, For contributions to the understanding of infant speech development and perception)
  • Ilse Lehiste (1973, For contributions in acoustic phonetics)
  • Colette M. McKay (2002, For contributions to measurement and improvement of speech recognition with cochlear implants)
  • Susan N. Nittrouer (2009, For contributions to developmental speech perception and production)
  • Linda Polka (2019, For contributions to native and non-native speech perception in infants and adults)
  • Charlotte Reed (2010, For contributions to speech communication through tactual stimluation)
  • Catherine L. Rogers (2018, For contributions to speech communication through service, mentoring, and scholarship)
  • Joan A. Sereno (2020, For contributions to speech learning, perception, and production across individuals and languages)
  • Christine H. Shadle (2008, For contributions to the aeroacoustics of speech)
  • Stefanie R. Shattuck-Hufnagel (2010, For contributions to speech production planning and speech prosody)
  • Rajka Smiljanic (2018, For contributions to cross-language speech acoustics and perception)
  • Maureen Stone (1993, For contributions to measurement and understanding of speech articulation)
  • Ann K. Syrdal (2008, For contributions to female speech synthesis)
  • Beverly A. Wright (2002, For contributions to understanding complex-sound perception, auditory adaptation and perceptual learning


Historical reviews

Primary sources

Week 7: The spectrograph


Broadly, what we would all like to know is how visible speech may be used in the education of the deaf. This may better be stated in two specific questions:

(a) To what extent can visible speech facilitate speech education and speech improvement?

(b) To what extent can visible speech be used to advantage as a means of communication in the general education of the deaf?

(Ralph K. Potter, George A. Kopp, & Harriet C. Green, Visible Speech, 1947: p. 289.)

Read excerpts from Ch.1-3, and Ch.13, of Visible Speech (1947) on the development of the spectrograph, and in a short 1-2 page essay, discuss at least two of the following:

  • How do the descriptions of spectrographic events (harmonics, formants, stop acoustics, etc.) differ from present-day descriptions?

  • How were women involved in the development of the spectrograph? Why do you think they were involved specifically in the ways they were?

  • How was the spectrograph tied to teaching deaf individuals to speak?

  • Eighty years after the publication of A.M. Bell’s Visible Speech, what had changed in how phonetic research was linked to the Deaf community?


Spectrographic records may possess undeniable artistic qualities but they are not studied for the sake of their own beauty. Acoustic phonetics aims at relating speech wave data to any other observable aspect of the speech act.

(Gunnar Fant, “Sound spectrography”, Proceedings of ICPhS IV (1961), 1962, p. 14))

Origins of spectrograph

Earliest written reports

Potter spectrograph and Kay Sona-Graph

  • Schematic of spectrograph proposed by R. K. Potter:

    • Record sound on magnetic tape mounted on rotating disk: basically, a turntable

    • Amplifier to boost higher frequencies (pre-amplification is still applied in Praat)

    • Analyzer: fixed band-pass filter with variable oscillator “by which any portion of the sound spectrum be brought within the frequency range of the filter.” (Koenig et al. 1946: p. 21). Filters are resonating circuits. A circuit is designed to admit (“pass”) frequencies within certain band and reduce energy in other frequencies. Filters are then led to circuits that measure the level of energy in the frequencies.

    • Output of analyzer recorded synchronously on recording paper. Energy of frequencies is represented as intensity in dB. Note differences between sound amplitude, energy, and intensity:

      • Amplitude of a sine wave is related to physical displacement; vibrations of greater frequency require more energy because the back-and-forth motion is occurring more often. The percept of loudness is more closely related to energy than to amplitude– that’s partly why higher frequencies sound louder than lower ones, even when the frequencies share the same amplitude. A sound’s loudness is therefore proportional to both its frequency and amplitude.

      • Sound intensity is a measure that is more directly related to perceived loudness which incorporates both its frequency and amplitude: it is proportion to frequency² and amplitude². Take 100 Hz and double its amplitude, and the intensity has now quadrupled. For speech sounds, we need to compare different sounds’ intensities; hence the decibel (one tenth of a bel, named after Graham Bell). It expresses the log ratio between two sounds’ intensities.

      • Kay Sona-Graph represented up to 33 dB, with 1 dB = 1 mm, though original spectrograph described in Koenig et al. 1946 goes to 35-40 dB.

        [(Potter et al. (1947: p. 10))]

        [(Potter et al. (1947: p. 15))]

  • Frequency range in original Potter spectrograph from 70-3500 Hz in 200 steps; in the later, widely-used Kay Sona-Graph: range was 8000 Hz, with each 2000 Hz = 1 inch on recording paper.

  • Trade-off between time and frequency resolutions in spectrograms: the original Potter spectrograph and Kay Sona-Graph had a filter bandwidth of 45 Hz for narrowband spectrograms– ability to resonate to each harmonic separately and reduce energy in between each harmonic. But such circuits will resonate for a while, leading to poorer time resolution (20 ms). Note that an f0 of 120 Hz has a glottal pulse every 8 ms; an f0 of 200 Hz every 5ms. So glottal pulses are not visible in a narrowband spectrogram. In contrast, the Kay Sona-Graph also had filter bandwidth option of 300 Hz for generating wideband spectrograms. A 300-Hz filter is not sharply tuned to particular frequencies, so will resonate to a wider band of frequencies but for a much shorter period of time (3 ms), allowing the next input of frequencies and glottal pulses to be detected separately.

Readability and whether to represent physical vs. auditory distributions

  • Discussion in Potter et al. (1947: Ch. 14) about how to represent frequency (linear vs. log), aspect ratio

  • See also Joos (1948: p. 66): “For phonetic research a spectrogram is superior to other laboratory records not in presenting more information or presenting it more precisely, for it presents less than a good oscillogram and with inferior precision; it is superior in that it presents only what the ear can hear, and presents it in a form closely analogous to the manner of hearing.”

  • Similar discussions are still being held today: see recent overview and “neurograms” by Winn & Stilp (2019).

Phonetic interests

  • Potential applications of spectrograms to phonetic research were immediately apparent. In Potter et al. (1947):

    • Phonemics

    • Definition and function of syllables

    • Quantification of voice quality, segments, stress, rhythm

    • Articulatory sources of “resonance bars” (formants)

    • Teaching phonetics, training clinicians

    • Determining what sound substitutions were made in disordered speech, characteristics of {a,dys}phonia, cleft palate speech, esophageal speech

    • Improving artificial larynges

    • Understanding ventriloquism and other speech styles

First phonetic uses and implications

  • Joos (1948: footnote 1) “accidentally became the first linguist permitted to use” the spectrograph, beginning in 1943. While Potter et al. used the term “bar,” Joos employed the term more commonly used in Europe at the time– the “formant.”

  • Joos (1948: p. 55): acoustic vowel chart in terms of F1-F2 superior (more cardinal) than articulatory positions obtained via X-ray. Also includes discussion of spectrographic characteristics of speech sounds that warrants continued interest today.

  • Lisker (1948) “The Distinction between [æ] and [ε]: a problem in acoustic analysis”: F1 or F2 insufficient for distinguishing the two vowels, but F2-F1 leaves no overlap between categories.

  • Bloch (1948: p. 4), in “A set of postulates for phonemic analysis”: “That we have reached a crucial point in the development of phonemics is clear from the first published results of sound spectrography. The implications of the sound spectrograph for phonemics are of the utmost importance; and it may well be that when more linguists have worked with this machine and have published its answers to their questions, we shall have to abandon some of our present assumptions in favor of new ones to accord with newly discovered facts.”

  • Peterson & Coxe (1953), “The vowels [e] and [o] in American speech”: Spectrographic description of the diphthongal nature of /eɪ/ and /oʊ/ relative to neighboring vowels.

  • Work from Haskins Labs, starting in 1950s: description of acoustic correlates of contrasts; use of Franklin Cooper’s Pattern Playback, which converted spectrograms to sound, to investigate the perceptual cues to various sound contrasts, search for invariant cues and development of Motor Theory. See References tab for some papers. Also Fowler & Harris (1999)’s historical overview of Haskins Labs, and Carol Fowler’s 2019 talk (YouTube) “Haskins Lab–The Last 50+ Years.

  • Pattern Playback didn’t require spectrograms generating from a spectrograph; they could be painted on acetate based on what the researcher thought was perceptually important, and it would be played back.

  • Portion of Carol Fowler’s (2019) talk (link to clip starting at about 43:00, to about 46:00) describing the momentous findings in 1952 that a burst centered at 1440 Hz could be identified as /p/ or /k/, depending on following vowel. This led to the development of Motor Theory.


Phonetics and the Deaf community

Under Week 2’s Perspectives tab “Phonetic notation of signed languages,” we saw several references dealing with specific questions regarding phonetic notation of signed languages. The following include further references on topics related to phonetics and its connection to the Deaf community, the history of signed language phonetics/linguistics, and EDI in linguistic as they pertain to signed languages.


Haskins Labs research

Much of the research done by my colleagues at Haskins Laboratories has been concerned with the question, “What is significant in the spectrographic pattern – and what is not?”

(Franklin S. Cooper, “Speech synthesizers”, Proceedings of ICPhS IV (1961), 1962, p. 7)

Primary sources of Haskins research until ca 1967

Other primary sources

Week 8: Field phonetics


An opportunity afforded A. L. Kroeber to hear Diegueño [Iipay Kumeyaay] as spoken by Rosendo Curo of Mesa Grande, San Diego County, California, in June 1912, revealed great resemblances and some striking differences between its sounds and those of its sister tongue Mohave […]

(Alfred L. Kroeber & John P. Harrington, “Phonetic elements of the Diegueño language,” 1914: p. 177.)

Changes in fieldwork on Kumeyaay/Kumiai

Read Kroeber & Harrington’s (1914, on Canvas) description of fieldwork on Kumeyaay (Diegueño), followed by Margaret Langdon’s (1966) dissertation, and then the JIPA Illustration on Ja’a Kumiai by Anna Mai, Andrés Aguilar, and Gabriela Caballero.

Describe some changes in the style of phonetic fieldwork across the three sources. Consider:

  • The description of the linguist’s relationship to the language teacher
  • The description of the language and linguistic community
  • The (de)colonialist perspectives of the authors
  • The main goals of the research
  • Conventions of phonetic notation
  • The framework and theories adopted

(For some inspiration, you could also consult Langdon’s 1994 review of the Kroeber/Harrington paper.)


Apart from the purely scientific value that all serious phonetic studies have, the phonetic analysis of African languages at the present day has two very practical aims; it is directed towards

a. the assistance of European learners (who are not phoneticians), and

b. the making of suitable orthographies for the native reader, and the improvement of existing inadequate or inaccurate orthographies…

…For both of these aims, an accurate and close phonetic analysis by a highly trained and experienced phonetician is essential, since it is only by means of such an analysis that the simplification of which is also necessary for both purposes can be achieved.

(Ida C. Ward, “The phonetic analysis of African languages,” ICPhS I, 1932: p. 250.)

Phonetic fieldwork

  • Dialectological fieldwork in Europe (recall Week 3).

  • Students of Neogrammarian school (Week 9), e.g. Trubetzkoy, did fieldwork on Caucasian languages and was interested in other languages of the Russian Empire.

  • Development of phonetics in Britain likely related to needs of British Empire; as phonetics grew in Britain, phoneticians used their skills to do fieldwork.

  • Until the mid 1900s, phonetic fieldwork in the Americas, Africa, and Asia was largely traditional impressionistic phonetics: little experimentation (but see Week 4 on Rousselot working on the Ainu language, also Miller 1930). Far ahead of his time was Pliny Earle Goddard’s experimental phonetic work (1907, 1912, 1928) on Hupa and Kato; see recent discussion by Gordon (2017).

Colonial and missionary fieldwork

(See review by Chelliah & de Reuse (2010))

  • Early examples: starting in 16th-century Spanish missionaries on Nahuatl and other languages of New Spain Chelliah & de Reuse (2010: Section 3.2.2: “The Dominicans arrived [in Mexico] in 1526 and the Augustinians in 1533. They studied and preached in Nahuatl as well in more than a hundred other languages of New Spain. Between 1524 and 1572, a total of 109 known works in or on these languages was produced.”

  • Around the same time: French and English missionaries documented languages of New France and New England.

  • Also starting in 16th or 17th century: catechism, dictionary, grammar of Kikongo, also Spanish grammars of Philippine languages; French Jesuit missionary grammars of Vietnamese, Portuguese Jesuits studied Japanese, Chinese languages.

  • In 18th and 19th centuries: German missionaries in Africa (including in areas not under German colonial administration), German and Dutch missionaries in Southeast Asia and PNG, English missionaries in Australia, Moravian missionaries in North America (including Arctic) and Tibet. Also starting more regularly by mid 1800s, Christian missionaries in British India and environs.

    • E.g. linguistic-anthropological work on southern African languages by Wilhelm H. I. Bleek, C. M. Doke, Lucy Lloyd, Dorothea Bleek; see short description in Hültenschmidt 2006; more references under “References” tab.
  • “Gentleman Scholars” (Chelliah & de Reuse (2010: Section 3.3): gifted amateurs, scientists (in other fields), explorers, colonial personnel, etc.

  • Fieldwork on languages spoken by enslaved, imprisoned, and captured people:

    • Slave trade: first collection of West African vocabularies (Akan, Ewe, Ibo, Ibibio) dates to c. 1760 and was collected from enslaved people in the West Indies; see Chelliah & de Reuse (2010: Section 3.4.1).

    • Exhibits of human beings: recall Piłsudski and Rousselot studying Ainu at 1910 Japan-British Exhibition (“Perspectives” tab in Week 4), common also in Australia

    • Ishi (c. 1861-1916), speaker-teacher of Yana who worked with Kroeber; see information on Berkeley Linguistics’ homepage

  • Native speaker-linguists who emerged out of missionary/colonial projects:

    • Fray Bernardino de Sahagún encouraged Nahuatl speakers in 1575–1577 to write down their own native oral traditions in their native languages

    • Samuel Ajayi Crowther, formerly enslaved Yoruba speaker, founder of Yoruba written tradition, translated the Bible, 1852 vocabulary

    • Pablo Tac, Luiseño speaker, wrote dictionary and grammar in Rome (see Perspectives tab)

    • Joseph Laurent (Sozap Lolô), Abenaki chief who wrote phrase book in 1884

      [(Laurent (1884: p. 10))]
    • Patricio Xec Cuc, K’iche’ speaker who translated the Popol Vuh, also co-wrote 1954 K’iche’-Spanish dictionary

  • See Chelliah & de Reuse (2010: Section 3.5.3) for information about ten native speaker-linguists trained in the Boas-Sapir-Bloomfield tradition

Fieldwork funded by museums, grant agencies, universities

  • J. R. Firth (UK: UCL → SOAS) and the ‘London School’ (Arabic, South Asian, African, languages)

  • Daniel Jones (UK: UCL, Setswana) → Lilias Armstrong (UK: UCL, Burmese, Ganda, Kikuyu, Somali), Ida C. Ward (UK: UCL → SOAS, speech pathology and West African languages)

  • Leonard Bloomfield (USA: Columbia/Yale, trained in the European philological/Neogrammarian tradition, fieldwork notably on Algonguian languages, also Austronesian)

  • Franz Boas → Edward Sapir, Alfred Kroeber (USA: Columbia, Chicago, Yale, languages of North American)

    • Kroeber later moved to Berkeley, worked with J. P. Harrington (field ethnologist at the Smithsonian)
  • ‘Sapir School’ (Chicago/Yale): e.g. Mary Haas (Berkeley: trained by Bloomfield and Sapir, languages of Southeast North America, California, Thai), Morris Swadesh (languages of Pacific Northwest, Burmese, Mexico).

  • Particularly from Boas’s students and the Sapir School, many papers on the phonetics/phonemics of indigenous American languages regularly appeared in IJAL after its first edition in 1917.

  • Phonetic fieldwork at Berkeley also included the Hupa and Kato studies by Goddard (1907, 1912, 1928) that were well ahead of their time in their inclusion of experimental techniques.

[(Photography in Goddard 1907)]

[(Palatography in Goddard 1907)]

[(Kymography in Goddard 1907)]

Phonetic notation in fieldwork

(inspired heavily by Hinton 1999)

  • Americanist tradition starts with John Wesley Powell (geologist, explorer, anthropologist, linguist), who provided training to Americans heading west.

    • Principles (Powell 1880, pp. 3-4):

        1. The Roman alphabet must be used without additions, and with only such diacritical marks as are found in ordinary fonts of type.
        1. Each sound must have a letter of its own.
        1. Each character must be used to represent but one sound.
        1. The Roman alphabet must be used for sounds in the Indian tongue the same or analogous to the sounds for which they are used in English and other civilized languages.
    • Vowels: a, e, i, o, u

      • Short vowels marked with breve accent now used in IPA for “extra-short”: ă, long vowels as e.g. a+, superscript-n for nasal vowels e.g. aⁿ

      • IPA ɔ = â; æ = ä, ʌ = û; y = ü

    • Consonants:

      • IPA ŋ = ñ (ɲ was = ny)

      • Dentals θ ð = ç ¢

      • Palatal and velar ç x were both = q; ɣ and ʕ both = x

      • Postalveolars: ʃ was = c, j = ʒ, tʃ and dʒ were = tc, dj

      • IPA j = y

      • Aspiration by inverted apostrophe, as in p❛

      • “Exploded” (ejective) sounds with an apostrophe, as in p’

      • No symbol for glottal stop

  • Boas, Sapir, Kroeber and others noted the inadequacies of this system, and set out to revise it. In 1915/1916, the Anthropological Association published Phonetic transcription of Indian languages, whose conventions form the bulk of the Americanist system still in use today.

    • Principles:

      • It is essential that each simple sound be consistently represented by the same symbol.

      • These symbols, as far as possible, should be those associated in past use with sounds similar to the ones they are chosen to represent.

      • For the sake of appearance and to avoid distracting the attention of the reader, mixture of fonts and unusual characters should be avoided unless indispensable.

      • In texts accompanied by interlinear translations all characters and marks of punctuation not strictly phonetic, such as capitals, commas, and periods, should be eliminated excepting, however, symbols introduced for facilitating grammatical analysis.

      • In order to reduce the cost of publishing texts, only such diacritical marks and accents as are essential for adequate transcription should be employed.

      • Where a uniform and fairly adequate system has already been employed in the recording of a particular language, it will usually be best to continue its use in further work with that language to facilitate comparisons and to avoid confusion. For purposes necessitating the comparison of different languages and requiring phonetic accuracy the more rigid system should be applied.

  • Nasal vowels have right hook “ogonek”: ą

  • Long vowels use single period or colon (cf. IPA)

  • Tones: high á; low à; falling â; rising ǎ

  • Stress: primary stress was marked by acute accent after vowel, secondary stress by grave accent: aˊ vs. aˋ

  • Glottalized/ejective consonants as p’; glottal stop as apostrophe

  • Dentals were changed to look like IPA’s, and Powell’s “q” (velar fricative) became IPA-like x.

    [(Americanist plosives (1916: p. 5))]

    [(Americanist fricatives (1916: p. 5))]

  • Americanist conventions continued to evolve. See e.g. consonant chart by Sapir (1923) on the phonetics of Haida:

    [(Sapir (1923: p. 145))]

  • Further revisions appeared in Herzog et al. 1934. Eventually, these were the main differences between the Americanist vs. IPA notation systems (Hinton 1999):

    [(Hinton (1999: p. 20))]

  • Some changes look influenced by the IPA. So why not just use IPA? According to Hinton:

    • Recommendations were bound by long history of previous scholarship in an Americanist tradition

    • IPA wasn’t as prominent then as it is today

    • Affricates were treated as single segments, so preference for single symbols (with diacritic); recall that this transcription of postalveolars was reconsidered during Kiel Convention, but ultimately turned down.

    • In other cases the IPA did switch to an Americanist convention: e.g. switching from ɷ → ʊ (Kiel)

    • But since 1980s, and especially after the Kiel Convention, IPA has been gaining ground; see appeal by Ladefoged 1990 in Language


Sol Plaatje and Daniel Jones’ work on Setswana

After some exercises I gave the students a few Sechuana sentences, which Mr Jones wrote phonetically on the blackboard. The result was to me astonishing. I saw some English ladies, who knew nothing of Sechuana, look at the blackboard and read these phrases aloud without the least trace of European accent. […] It is my hope that Bechuana readers of this little book will induce their friends to acquaint themselves with the use of phonetics, if only to retain a correct pronunciation of their mother-tongue.

(Solomon T. Plaatje, preface to A Sechuana Reader, 1916: p. X.)

Sol Plaatje (1876–1932) was a South African politician, journalist, linguist, novelist and translator, as well as a founder member of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), now known as the African National Congress. Learn more here about his life and legacy, including his research on Setswana with Daniel Jones.

Pablo Tac and fieldwork on Luiseño

Californienses /Quechṅajuichom/ omnibus fere quibus Hispani litteris utuntur. Sed peculiares sibi sonos superposito quibusdam litteris puncto signare commode possunt.

Californians /Quechṅajuichom/ make use of nearly all the letters the Spaniards do. But by placing a mark over certain letters they are able to properly inscribe sounds particular to each letter.

(Pablo Tac, Rudimenta to his Luiseño grammar, c. 1840, as reproduced in Hass 2011: pp. 60-61.)

Pablo Tac was a Luiseño who in 1834 was sent to Rome to study. Between 1834-1841 (when he died at only 19 years old), he wrote a Luiseño grammar and dictionary. “The results constitute the earliest substantial record of Luiseño, and one of the first grammatical descriptions written by a speaker of an American Indian language” (Chung 1974). Learn more about his life and work, and about linguistic scholarship on Luiseño:

Indigenous approaches to linguistics

Presenting the language as an object whose value lies in what it reveals for linguistic theory can reduce the people to their value for science, thus evoking the general colonial practice of exploiting the colonized population for its resources.

(Wesley Y. Leonard, “Reflections on (de)colonialism in language documentation”, 2018: p. 59)

The following are publications on Indigenous and decolonial approaches to research, in particular research involving fieldwork and language documentation:


Phonetic and phonological fieldwork on African languages

Phonetic fieldwork on Indigenous American and Australian languages


Week 9: Sound change and the phoneme


Another basic difference [in phoneme theory] is in the guiding motives of the scholars: Jones and the other British workers in this field have always been directly concerned with two problems: (1) devising new practical orthographies for various languages, previously unwritten or inadequately written, and (2) finding aids to the teaching of modern European languages. Except for the missionary wing, which shares the first aim with the British, American linguists have generally been concerned with achieving a kind of mathematical beauty of logical rigor, while the continental scholars seem to have been hoping to arrive ultimately at a kind of universal linguistics, a comparison of all the world’s languages, seeking pattern and order wherever they could find it on the way. […] The European asks “Is it true?,” the American “Is it consistent?,” the Englishman “Will it help?”

(Fred W. Householder, Jr., Review of D. Jones’ The Phoneme: Its Nature and Use. IJAL (18:2), 1952, pp. 99-100.)

Read Chao (1934)’s “The non-uniqueness of phonemic solutions of phonetic systems” and Jones (1957)’s “The history and meaning of the term ‘phoneme’.” In 1-2 pages, discuss the following:

  • Is the phoneme a physical vs. mental unit?
  • In defining a phoneme, who emphasizes its differences from other phonemes in a language?
  • (How) are suprasegments (e.g. tones, stress, length) mentioned with respect to defining the phoneme?
  • How might Chao’s expertise in Chinese languages, and Jones’ expertise in European languages, affected the way each approached the question of defining the phoneme?
  • Why were/are phoneticians interested in the phoneme as a concept?


(inspired heavily by Fischer-Jørgensen 1995)

In the Chinese syllables [tʂʅ], [tʂʻʅ], [ʂʅ], [ʐʅ], [tsɿ], [tsʻɿ], [sɿ], there is a vowel which is a vocalized prolongation of the preceding consonant, and is understood to be present when these syllables are written as ㄓ, 彳, 尸, ㄖ,ㄗ, ㄘ, ㄙ in the National Phonetic Script [Bopomofo]. This is therefore a way of representing actual sounds by zero symbol.

(Yuen-Ren Chao, “The non-uniqueness of phonemic solutions of phonetic systems”, 1934, p. 374)


  • “Phonology” = linguistic functions of speech sounds

  • “Phonetics” = physiological, physical, and perceptual properties of speech sounds

  • “Phonology” = has had numerous meanings:

    • sound physiology

    • general phonetics

    • historical sound development

    • phonemics and phonetics (esp. by Bloomfieldians)

  • “Phonemics” = older meaning for “phonology,” came to be associated with (post-)Bloomfieldian structuralism.

Phonetics vs. phonology since 1860

Neogrammarian sound change

  • Early 19th century saw emergence of Indo-Europeanists: e.g. Jacob Grimm (1785–1863), Rasmus Rask (1787-1832), and Franz Bopp (1791-1867). Language began being studied for its own sake as a natural (not just cultural) phenomenon, and in more scientifically-rigorous ways.

    • E.g. Grimm’s Law: PIE voiceless stops → P-Germanic voiceless fricatives; voiced stops → voiceless stops; voiced aspirated stops → voiced stops (or fricatives allophonically)
  • Search for sound change “laws” began in earnest, using scientific methods.

  • The Neogrammarians (German Junggrammatiker) were a group of linguists (mostly Indo-Europeanists and Germanists) that emerged in Germany starting in 1875: e.g Wilhelm Braune (1850-1926), Karl Brugmann (1849-1919), Berthold Delbrück (1842-1922), August Leskien (1840-1916), Hermann Osthoff (1847-1909), Hermann Paul (1846-1921), and Eduard Sievers (1850-1932). Sievers, with Henry Sweet and Johan Storm (1836-1920), were important figures in advocating for phonetic approaches to language teaching.

    • Some of their most famous works include Osthoff & Brugman (1878), Paul (1880), and Sievers (1876 1st edition as Grundzüge der Lautphysiologie, 1886-1901 3rd-5th editions as Grundzüge der Phonetik).

    • Main tenets to Neogrammarian sound change:

      • “Neogrammarian hypothesis” = sound change is exceptionless, gradual, and not perceptible (while ongoing)

      • Sound change is mostly articulatorily grounded, with gradual changes due to random variations (i.e. in exemplar memory).

      • Other changes, notably dissimilation/metathesis, are distinct entirely: attributed to “psychological” origins or speech errors

    • Their claims are still very relevant today; see recent discussion by Garrett (2015)

Ferdinand de Saussure

  • Best known for the work Cours de linguistique générale (Course on general linguistics), a reconstruction of his course notes by students Bally and Sechehaye and published posthumously in 1916.

  • In late 1870s, Saussure studied in Leipzig and was in contact with leading Neogrammarians, whose historical focus on language he later opposed.

  • Some other influences:

    • Wilhelm von Humboldt: content vs. expression; form vs. matter; language vs. speech

    • William Dwight Whitney’s The life and growth of language (1875): language as a social institution, conventionalization of linguistic symbols.

    • Baudouin de Courtenay (language as a psychological concept) and Kruszewski (on the latter, see recent review by Silverman 2012) of the Kazań School.

  • Dichotomies in language:

    • langue (language) vs. parole (speech)

    • signifié (signified) vs. signifiant (signifier) (and l’arbitraire du signe “the arbitrariness of the sign”)

    • form (units of the system) vs. substance (sound/meaning)

    • syntagmatic (relations across elements on a linguistic chain) vs. associative (later “paradigmatic”, contrast between elements)

    • synchrony (description of the present state of the language) vs. diachrony (description of the historical development of the language)

  • Led to “structuralist” approaches to linguistics that dominated the field before generative linguistics, including:

    • Prague School

    • American structuralism

  • One outcome, which we still grapple with today, was the relegating of phonetics ( Saussure’s parole) to outside the main objectives of linguistic research.

Prague School

  • 1920s, with influence from Russian school (Baudoin de Courtenay, Ščerba/Shcherba) after arrival in Czechoslovakia of Roman Jakobson, Nikolaj S. Trubetzkoy, and S. I. Karcevskij.

  • Linguistic Circle of Prague founded in 1926 by V. Mathesius. Was very active until Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, which led to death and dispersal of its members.

  • Trubetzkoy’s Grundzüge der Phonologie (Principles of Phonology), published posthumously in 1939, is best-known work

  • Aims of a phonological theory:

    • To set up phonological systems and formulate general laws concerning their structure

    • To account for the significant differences

    • To find relations between sets of contrasts

    • To account for historical change

  • Helped establish the field of phonology as distinct from phonetics: phonology was part of language whereas phonetics parole and outside of linguistics. Per Trubetzkoy: phonology belongs to the humanities while phonetics to the physical sciences. Jakobson maintained the distinction between phonology/phonetics vs. form/substance, but also played prominent role in bringing phonetics into phonology (notably, in Jakobson, Fant, & Halle 1952). Connection was also strong for Martinet, who treated phonology as “functional phonetics.”

  • Phoneme = originally treated as psychological by Jakobson/Trubetzkoy (following Baudouin de Courtenay), eventually all in Prague School came to treat it functionally:

    • Phonemes defined by oppositions to others for the purposes of distinguishing meaning

    • Generally treated as smallest phonological unit than cannot be further decomposed

  • Phonemes vs. variants

    • Combinatory variants: occur in different environments

    • Facultative variants: occur in the same environments

    • Phonetic similarity matters: per Trubetzkoy, if similar sounds occur in different environments, they should be treated as combinatory variants of the same phoneme (cf. English /h/ vs. /ŋ/). For Martinet and Jakobson, identification was based on distinctive features.

    • Phonemes were also arranged into systems according to relevant phonetic properties (distinctive features), which later became extremely important for generative phonology

  • Sound change also played an important role in theoretical developments of the Prague School. E.g. from Martinet we have the concept of “functional load” of a phoneme and its relevance for diachrony. Martinet also had a strong influence on the emergence of modern sociolinguistics (recall Week 3 “structural dialectology”).

  • Distinctive feature theory (e.g. Jakobson, Fant, & Halle 1952) put the emphasis on features (vs. phonemes) in phonological analysis; it also was a collaboration between a speech acoustician and phonologists/linguists. Features have acoustic (spectral) characteristics; e.g. [grave/acute]: “Acoustically this feature means the predominance of one side of the significant part of the spectrum over the other. When the lower side of the spectrum predominates, the phoneme is labeled grave; when the upper side predominates, we term the phoneme acute” (p. 29, Section 2.4.2). Such collaborations, particularly at MIT, would persist well into the second half 20th century and into the current era (e.g. Halle & Stevens 1971, and collaborations between Jay Keyser & Ken Stevens 1986/1989/2006/2010).

American structuralism

  • In the early 20th century in the US, unlike in Europe, most linguists were working on descriptions of indigenous languages with no orthographic tradition: what to transcribe/write, and how to arrive at what to transcribe/write? Before this period, the common methods of linguistic analysis used were in historical linguistics, which were of no use to these questions.

  • Modern anthropological linguistic research said to begin with Franz Boas, who taught Edward Sapir. In Language (1921), Sapir treats the linguistic system as psychological entity. In Sapir (1933/1949)’s “The psychological reality of phonemes,” Sapir claims that native speakers hear phonemes, not phones.

  • The psychological reality of phonemes was rejected by Leonard Bloomfield, who wished to exclude all mentalistic approaches to linguistics. Bloomfield was trained as an Indo-Europeanist under the Neogrammarians Leskien and Brugmann. He learned from Boas about the importance of synchronic description of indigenous languages; he was also aware of Saussure’s Cours and strove to make synchronic descriptions scientifically rigorous like the historical methods used by the Neogrammarians. His 1933 book Language, meant as an undergraduate textbook, became the guide for “descriptive linguistics” in the US. Phonemes are “the smallest units which make a difference in meaning” (1933: p. 136), and the study of phonemes was called “phonemics.”

  • The Post-Bloomfieldians included students of Bloomfield’s and others similarly trained in American descriptive linguistics: e.g. W. Freeman Twaddell, Morris Swadesh, Bernard Bloch, George Trager, Zellig Harris, Charles Hockett, Kenneth Pike, etc.

  • Additionally for Pike and his missionary students at SIL, an important goal of describing languages rigorously is to create an alphabet for translation of the Bible. In some sense then, their use of phonemic analysis mirrors that of Jones.

  • In (Post-)Bloomfieldian structuralism phonemics generally builds on phonetics by classifying phonetic data; see Pike (1947: p. 57): “Phonetics gathers raw material, phonemics cooks it.”

  • Tenets of Neogrammarian sound change were adopted into American stucturalist thought.

Phoneme theory in phonetics

  • IPA (e.g. in works by Sweet, Passy, Jones) long acknowledged the need for broad transcription for sounds with distinctive values relative to others; recall principles of the IPA (Week 5). The need was largely practical: for transcribing, devising orthographies and teaching languages.

  • Sweet and Passy: phoneme was a physical unit, and its distinctiveness from other phonemes was its essential property.

  • Daniel Jones in 1911 became aware of the theoretical developments by Beaudouin de Courtenay and the Kazań School from Ščerba 1911’s paper on Russian phonetics in the mf, which led to development of his own phoneme theory (1950: 10): “A phoneme is a family of sounds in a given language which are related in character and are used in such a way that no one member ever occurs in a word in the same phonetic context as any other member.”

    • “A family of sounds” = class of sounds in complementary distribution with one another

    • “In a given language” = “the speech of one individual pronouncing in a definite and consistent style”

    • “Related in character” = (some kind of) phonetic similarity

    • “Phonetic context” = “in a word”

    • No mention of distinctive function of phonemes: “It is my considered opinion that any reference to meaning is out of place in a physical definition of the phoneme. It is incumbent on us to distinguish between what phonemes are and what they do. Phonemes are what is stated in the definition. What they do is to distinguish words from one another. Different sounds belonging to the same phoneme cannot do this.” (Jones 1957: p. 15)

    • Phonemes are segmental; cf. his “chronemes,” “tonemes,” and “stronemes.”


In Yuen-Ren Chao (1934)’s “The non-uniqueness of phonemic solutions of phonetic systems,” the author describes several ways in which Bloomfield’s conceptualization of the segmental phoneme poses problems for Chinese languages. Some issues include:

  • Fuzhou Min: Alternations between monophthongal vowels and diphthongs or vowels broken by a glottal stop when they bear a certain tone (p. 370): are these members of the same set of sounds (i.e. “phoneme”)?

  • Wu: whether to treat [ɦV] as a sequence of C+V vs. one sound (pp.372-373)

  • Treatment of glides: cf. analysis of English ‘sway’ as [swei] vs. Chinese analysis of 歲 as [suei]

  • Apical vowels (p. 374)

  • Alternations between coda vs. ∅ (p. 380)

  • Treating the alveolar-palatal series as allophones of velar vs. retroflex series (p. 381)

Note also how Chao describes how British phoneticians Harold Palmer’s views about sound abstraction were influenced by his work on Japanese romanization, and by phonetician Kaku Jimbo, whose work, generally unacknowledged today, was very important for the development of theories of the mora and pitch accent.


Historical reviews

Primary sources

Week 10: Past, present, and future


The political situation is still more threatening than it was in the thirties, and I think some of us now and then ask ourselves if it really makes sense doing phonetic research if our whole civilisation is doomed, – whether it is not a more urgent task to try to improve mutual understanding and confidence among people. Perhaps it is. However: Man is certainly the most destructive of animals, and perhaps he does not deserve to survive. On the other hand, he is also the most constructive animal, the most creative; and if we give up creating art and seeking truth, do we not then betray just that which gives us a sort of moral right to survive? That which makes us human?

(Eli Fischer-Jørgensen, “‘Phonetic Sciences’, Past and Present,” Opening address at ICPhS X, 1982: p. 10.)

What is phonetics? What questions concern phoneticians?

  • Daniel Jones (1938: p.2): “Phonetics is a means to an end – or rather to several ends. It may be well to recall what some of these ends are, and to add a few reflections on their relative importance”

    • L2 teaching and learning

    • Learning “correct” pronunciation of L1

    • Speech therapy

    • Orthography development

    • Special alphabets (shorthand, writing for the blind, telegraphy)

  • Subjects requiring knowledge of phonetics:

    • Language typology

    • Historical linguistics

    • Dialectology

  • Björn Lindblom (1980: 10): “Phonetics has been traditionally defined as the study of speech sounds. If a deceased colleague of ours, active around the turn of the century, suddenly rose from the dead and could peep over the shoulders of his modern colleagues he would be unlikely to feel at home in our technologically sophisticated laboratories. However, attending conferences and seminars he would no doubt conclude that the major problems to be solved and the questions asked had changed very little.”

    [(Lindblom (1980: p. 11))]

    [(Lindblom (1980: p. 13))]

  • Ian Catford (1988: pp.1-2): “Phonetics is the systematic study of human speech-sounds. It provides means of describing and classifying virtually all the sounds that can be produced by human vocal tracts. How this is done is the principal subject-matter of this book. […] Any person who works with language would do well to have a basic knowledge of phonetics. […] What the competent phonetician must acquire is a deep, internally experienced, awareness of what is going on within the vocal tract-an ability to analyse, and hence describe and ultimately control, the postures and movements of organs that produce the sounds of speech.”

  • Patricia Ashby (2016: p. 123): “There are plenty of really dreadful sites and the web can be a minefield for the would-be student. In a sense, you need to know phonetics before you can risk studying from these sites! Theory is less of a problem than the practical side of the discipline—but ear-training is crucial and separates ‘those who know phonetics’ from ‘those who merely know about phonetics’ (Ashby and Ashby 2013). It is practical training we need to focus on.”

  • John Ohala (2000: pp. 25-26): “The starting point and the definition of any study are the questions it asks. Whether motivated by idle curiosity or by a need to understand how things work in order to achieve some benefit, a question is the desire to penetrate the ‘known’ / ‘unknown’ barrier. Here (by my reading) are some of the enduring questions that have been raised about speech throughout history and which occupy individuals in the field:

    • What is the nature of speech? How is it produced and perceived?

    • What is the origin of speech?

    • How is speech represented in the brain?

    • How are language and speech acquired?

    • How can we ameliorate communication disorders?

    • What is the basis for the link between sound and meaning?

    • Why do different languages exist? What is the history of a language and its parts? How do regional and stylistic variants in pronunciation of words arise?

    • How can we amplify the functions of speech – e.g., make speech less ephemeral, convey speech over longer distances, communicate via speech to animals or inanimate objects?

Back to Week 1: Why study the history of phonetics?

There is undeniable entertainment value in history. It satisfies our curiosity: it uncovers unexpected links between people, things, and events; it makes us see familiar things from a new perspective. History is a story and we all enjoy stories. Whatever form of satisfaction is derived from reading the Guinness Book of Records or books of “firsts” may also be provided by histories. But many believe there are also moral, philosophical, and sound scientific lessons to be derived from the history of science. History may inspire us to emulate the pioneers in the field – those who had the daring to break from tradition and try something new. Tracing the history of ideas can enlarge a researcher’s horizons: What is the basis for common assumptions underlying current practice? Are they well-founded? Were some of the “modern” discoveries in the field anticipated, and, if so, what factors account for the earlier ideas or ideas being rejected? Are there similar factors present today causing some ideas to be ignored? Are there common elements of methodology to some of the significant advances in the past?

(Ohala et al. 1999: iv)

Why mid-1800s to mid-1900s?

  • Descriptive phonetics: Spelling reform and phonetic notation → IPA

  • Acoustic phonetics: Helmholtz vowel resonances → the Acoustic Theory of Speech Production

  • Experimental phonetics: Mechanical kymograms → electrical oscillograms and spectrograms

  • Linguistic theory: Neogrammarian sound change ⇝ Structural linguistics ⇝ Generative linguistics and sociolinguistics

  • Birth of modern discipline: Spelling reformers, language teachers, medical doctors, engineers ⇝ phoneticians

Moral lessions to be derived

  • Understand links between phonetic sciences and:

    • religious devotion and artistic expression

    • language teaching and literacy

    • eugenics, oralism, White supremacy, colonialism

  • How was modern phonetic discovery able to develop in the ways that it did? Whose voices were suppressed in the process of these discoveries?

  • In the present and future, how can we be more moral practitioners of phonetics?

Factors causing ideas, people, to be ignored

  • Signed language phonetics vs. spoken language phonetics

  • Sociophonetics vs. “theoretical” phonetics

  • Phonetics vs. linguistics

  • Theoretical vs. Applied linguistics

  • Highlight successes of phoneticians from marginalized groups, while also asking:

    • What barriers might such phoneticians have to overcome?

    • Why do such phoneticians work on the research topics that they do?