First International Workshop on the History of Speech Communication Research (HSCR 2015)

Dresden, Germany
September 4-5, 2015

William Holder – A Pioneer of Phonetics

Angelika Braun

University of Trier, Germany

This paper looks at William Holder's "Elements of Speech" [1] from the perspective of modern phonetic and phonological literature. The structure of this presentation, first touching on general linguistic concepts, follows the three principal stages of speech production: respiration/air stream mechanism, phonation, and articulation. Holder's rendition of speech perception is discussed in conjunction with the clinical application of teaching a deaf-mute to speak. Furthermore, the passage on what is today called prosody will be reviewed. The mere fact that this topic is addressed in Holder's work is remarkable since suprasegmentals were not normally an issue at all in 17th century publications on speech. The extent and precision of the description in the "Elements of Speech" is truly remarkable. A comparison with the writings of Wolfgang von Kempelen, who is often referred to as the pioneer of modern day phonetic theory, shows that Holder knew much more about speech and hearing than Kempelen even though his writings have received much less attention.


  1. Holder, William (1669): Elements of Speech. An Essay of Inquiry into the Natural Production of Letters: with An Appendix Concerning Persons Deaf & Dumb. London.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Braun, Angelika (2015): "William Holder – a pioneer of phonetics", In HSCR-2015, 106-117.