Who does Phonetics?

Influencing the Field 

Below are four modern (ish) figures which have contributed to the research of phonetics. Here we will explore a brief account of their lives and what they have brought to this branch of linguistics.

John C Wells (1939-)

Wells studied at Cambridge University and the University College of London. He is a well
acclaimed phonetician having previously been the president of the International Phonetic Association from 2003-2007 and president of the World Esperanto Association from 1989-1995. Later in his career, Wells returned to the University College of London to teach Phonetics.

However, he is most famous for his work on descriptions of Varieties of English. In 1990, He wrote the pronunciation dictionary for Longman (a publisher) exploring the sound variations of words used in different accents throughout Britain - he also included American variations. 

Now in his retirement, Wells continues his love of phonetics in an online blog. (See Finding out more).   

Daniel Jones (1881-1967)

Jones first studied at Cambridge University gaining a degree in maths; it was only until later whilst studying in Germany that he discovered his love of phonetics. Throughout 1905-6 he worked and
learnt under the famous Paul Passy (founder of the International Phonetics Association) in Paris.

Jones was the first linguist to use the term 'phoneme' in the western world. He wrote the English Pronouncing Dictionary in 1917 which gained much recognition. For a big part of his life he was a lecturer at the University College of London, also with the role as the head of the department of Phonetics. 

Peter Ladefoged (1925-2006)

Phonetic work does not necessarily have to be within an academic setting. On the picture to the
left, Professor Peter Ladefoged (second from right) acts as the linguistic consultant on the famous film from 1964 My Fair Lady.

The majority of his life work revolved around documenting the sounds of endangered languages (See Why is Phonetics studied? for more information on endangered languages). Ladefoged travelled the world (especially Africa and Asia) attempting to record the rare languages that he found. His aim wasn't to save the languages but solely record them.

He began his career studying at the University of Edinburgh and from 1962-1991 taught at the University of California. He was also an active member of the International Phonetic Association.

Henry Sweet (1845-1912)

Sweet's specialist work in phonetics was in relation to 'the teaching of languages'. He particularly worked on Germanic languages, including Old English and Old Norse.

Initially beginning his education at Oxford University, Sweet later studied in Germany until returning to Oxford as a lecturer of phonetics in 1901.

The first scientific description of RP (Received Pronunciation ..BBC English ..Queen's English etc.) was developed by Sweet as well as founding the 'British School of Phonetics'.

He published a number of books which gained scholarly recognition - even as an undergraduate student! One of his most famous works is 'A Handbook of Phonetics', which is still used and an influential piece today.

See where abouts in history this phonetician was influential : Henry Sweet is featured in our phonetic timeline.
Other Key People
  • Alexander Melville Bell
  • David Abercrombie
  • Ian Maddieson
  • Ian Wilson
  • John Ohala

Where to next?


Picture Credits

  • (Wells) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_C._Wells 
  • (Jones) http://archive.org/stream/cu31924027389505#page/n29/mode/2up
  • (Ladefoged) http://www.spotlight.ucla.edu/faculty/peter-ladefoged_ling/ 
  • (Sweet) http://thepassionatemoviegoer.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/henry-alice-george.html