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

Dresden, Germany
September 4-5, 2015

The "Bonn Connection" and its Consequences: Paul Menzerath and Werner Meyer-Eppler's Reunification of Phonetics and Phonology and the Emergence of a New Phonetic Speech Science based on Shannon’s Mathematical Theory of Communication

Hans G. Tillmann, Jessica Siddins

LMU München, IPS, Germany

1950, only two years after it was founded, the MIT’s Electronic Research Laboratory (ERL) organised the first „Speech Communication Conference“. Surprisingly, among the fourteen very prominent participants there were merely two representatives from the field of phonetic speech research: Paul Menzerath and Werner Meyer-Eppler from Germany; and it was on this very trip to the USA that they first met Claude Shannon of Bell Labs. Upon their return to the University of Bonn they founded the Institut für Phonetik und Kommunikationsforschung1 which completely changed the direction of phonetics into speech communication research by forming a unique collaboration originally based on Shannon’s Mathematical Theory of Communication. We begin with a discussion of how it took another eighty years following the great early successes in speech physiology and subsequent school of early instrumental phonetics from 1850 onwards for the classic phonetic theory of vowels and consonants to finally come crashing down. We then outline how this crisis was overcome by the paradigm shift at the institute in Bonn and describe the consequences for the subsequent development of phonetic theory and its applications. Finally, we demonstrate that – looking back – the eventual collapse of early instrumental phonetics was virtually pre-programmed and could be expected because of the initially successful but in hindsight far to optimistic “simplifying assumptions” made by speech physiologists such as Brücke (1849/1856) and Bell (1865).

1 It should be noted that to L1-speakers of German the term Kommunikation at that time was a strange foreign word and totally incomprehensible; it took a few years before e.g. the verb kommunizieren (‘to communicate’) became a familiar German loan-word.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Tillmann, Hans G. / Siddins, Jessica (2015): "The "bonn connection" and its consequences: Paul Menzerath and Werner Meyer-Eppler's reunification of phonetics and phonology and the emergence of a new phonetic speech science based on Shannon’s mathematical theory of communication", In HSCR-2015, 128-139.