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

Dresden, Germany
September 4-5, 2015

Experimental Phonetics at University College London before World War I

Michael Ashby

Speech, Hearing and Phonetic Sciences, UCL (University College London), UK

This paper argues that significant research and teaching in experimental phonetics at UCL preceded the establishment of the laboratory in 1912 by almost a decade. The forgotten work of E. R. Edwards [1] combined descriptive and experimental approaches in a pioneering study of Japanese. Recently recovered artefacts, and a close reading of the early publications of Daniel Jones (DJ), reveal a surprising range of equipment and techniques available before the laboratory was founded. In 1909, DJ’s Intonation curves made use of what was arguably the first spoken corpus. It has been possible to locate and digitise the majority of the gramophone records of the corpus, and acoustic analysis confirms that DJ's fo representations are of astonishing accuracy. The view that the earliest phase of experimental phonetics teaching at UCL must have been derivative can be rebutted. On the contrary, it was research-driven, and almost certainly enlivened by demonstrations with relevant apparatus and informed by up-to-date scholarship.


  1. E. R. Edwards, Étude phonétique de la langue japonaise, Impr. B.G. Teubner, Leipzig, 1903.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Ashby, Michael (2015): "Experimental phonetics at University College London before World War I", In HSCR-2015, 118-127.