Daniel Jones (phonetician)

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Daniel Jones (12 September 1881 – 4 December 1967) was a London-born British phonetician. A pupil of Paul Passy, professor of phonetics at the École des Hautes Études at the Sorbonne (University of Paris), Daniel Jones is considered by many to be the greatest phonetician of the early 20th century. He was head of the Department of Phonetics at University College, London.



In 1900, Jones studied briefly at William Tilly's Marburg Language Institute in Germany where he was first introduced to phonetics. In 1903 he received his BA degree in mathematics at Cambridge, converted by payment to MA in 1907. From 1905 to 1906, he studied at Paris under Paul Passy, who was one of the founders of the International Phonetic Association, and in 1911 married Passy's niece Cyrille Motte. He briefly took private lessons from the great British phonetician Henry Sweet. In 1907 he became a part-time lecturer at University College London, and was afterwards appointed to a full-time position. In 1912 he became the head of the Department of Phonetics and was appointed to a chair in 1921, a post he held until his retirement in 1949. From 1906 onwards, Jones was an active member of the International Phonetic Association, and was Assistant Secretary from 1907-1927, Secretary from 1927 to 1949 and President from 1950 to 1967.

In 1909, Jones wrote the short Pronunciation of English, a book which he later radically revised. The Outline of English Phonetics which followed in 1918 is the first truly comprehensive description of British Received Pronunciation, and indeed the first such description of the standard pronunciation of any language.

The year 1917 was a landmark in many ways. Jones became the first linguist in the western world to use the term phoneme in its current sense, employing the word in his article The phonetic structure of the Sechuana Language [1]. Jones had made an earlier notable attempt at a pronunciation dictionary [2] but it was now that he produced the first edition of his famous English Pronouncing Dictionary [3], a work which in revised form is still in print. It was here that the cardinal vowel diagram made a first appearance [4].

The problem of the phonetic description of vowels is of long standing, going back to the era of the ancient Indian linguists. Three nineteenth century British phoneticians deserve mention. Alexander Melville Bell (1867) devised an ingenious iconic phonetic alphabet which included an elaborate system for vowels. Alexander Ellis had also suggested vowel symbols for his phonetic alphabets. Henry Sweet did much work on the systematic description of vowels, coming up with what must be considered a somewhat over-elaborate system of vowel description involving a multitude of symbols. Jones however was the one who is generally credited with having gone much of the way towards a practical solution through his scheme of 'Cardinal Vowels', a relatively simple system of reference vowels which for many years has been taught systematically to students within the British tradition. It is worth pointing out, however, that much of the inspiration for this scheme can be found in the earlier publications of Paul Passy.

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