Phonetische studien — applied linguistics gets its first journal

Andrew Linn
University of Sheffield

Several new journals of the late 1870s (Englische studien, Anglia: Zeitschrift für englische Philologie and the Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie) gave the linguistics of the modern languages the means for their proponents to talk to each other in a scholarly forum as the modern languages established themselves as university disciplines. One of the key outlets for this ‘new philology’ was the slightly later arrival on the scene, Phonetische studien [Phonetic studies]. This was very much the preferred organ of the Reform Movement in language teaching (for more on the Reform Movement, see Howatt and Smith 2002). It also rapidly became the principal discourse forum for the wider community of predominantly younger scholars, working both within and outside universities, inspired by the opportunities for new forms of applied language work offered by the new science of phonetics (for more on this ‘discourse community’, see Linn 2008).

Phonetische studien (it did not adopt upper-case letters word-initially in nouns) first appeared in 1888 with the subtitle Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche und praktische phonetik mit besonderer rücksicht auf den unterricht in der aussprache [Journal of scientific and practical phonetics with particular emphasis on the teaching of pronunciation]. The title was a work in progress, as we shall see in due course, and its fluidity tells us much about the journal and the community it served. The style of the title was clearly calqued on that of the earlier journals, and it served to position the newcomer amongst them as a serious contribution to the philological literature. By the 1880s journals had come to “represent the most important single source of information for the scientific research community” (Meadows 1979: 1) and any self-respecting scholarly endeavour needed one to give it credibility as well as serving “to create and solidify a bonding sense of community for scholars who might otherwise have remained isolated individuals or small cadres” (Christie 1990: 17). The 1886 meeting of Scandinavian philologists in Stockholm, attended by Paul Passy (1859-1940) in the year in which he founded the Phonetic Teachers Association, had resulted in the establishment of the four key principles of language teaching reform (see Linn 2002). This, and the other philologists’ conferences which were by now a regular fixture in the annual calendar, must have been an invigorating and empowering experience for the phonetically minded language teaching reformers, and the new journal was a way of keeping the community together and focused. Regular reports on efforts to put reform measures into practice provided a source of encouragement to those who felt themselves to be lone voices in a chorus of traditional methods. However, those lone voices were joining forces rapidly to form a new chorus of reforming zeal. Writing in 1893, and looking back over the previous years, the German reform pioneer Wilhelm Viëtor (1850-1918) charts the dramatic development of this community of scholars and teachers dedicated to applying the insights of phonetics to language teaching reform. He notes that “this rather insignificant germ of reform literature has meanwhile grown to very considerable dimensions” (1893: 353) and that the community is coming together in significant numbers:

The … Verband der Neuphilologen Deutschlands now numbers about one thousand members, and may be said to be thoroughly representative…Between five and six hundred modern language teachers of different countries have joined [the Phonetic Teachers’ Association] (354)

The editor of Phonetische studien was Wilhelm Viëtor himself, “the main initiator of the late 19th century Reform Movement” (Smith 2007), its primus motor via his famous reform pamphlet (Quousque Tandem 1882), but the involvement of the whole community is clear from the title page on which the members of the editorial board are listed. Volume 1 was published ‘unter mitwirkung von’ [with the collaboration of] fifty-one leading names in the interlinked fields of phonetics and language teaching, although the fifty one were evidently only the most noteworthy, as the list concludes “u.a.” [amongst others]. The group numbers 77 “u.a.” in volume 2 and this is an ever-growing army of supporters such that the list is replaced from volume 3 by the statement “unter mitwirkung zahlreicher fachgenossen” [with the collaboration of numerous colleagues]. Amongst the list of names are those of Henry Sweet (1845-1912), Johan Storm (1836-1920), Otto Jespersen (1860-1943), the Swedish Slavist Johan August Lundell (1851-1940) and the Norwegian teacher and grammarian, August Western (1856-1940), as well as eminences grises of the older generation of phonetics such as Alexander Melville Bell (1819-1905) and A. J. Ellis (1814-1890). The new journal is by the community for the community and crucially shows itself to have the authority to take on this role.

It was not unusual for new journals to open with a ‘manifesto’, setting out the agenda for the new publication, siting it within the market and clarifying what readers could expect. Phonetische studien doesn’t open with a statement by the editor but with an article from the pen of one of the first to hold a university position in phonetics and the architect of the teaching reform principles elaborated at the 1886 Stockholm meeting, J. A. Lundell. It is, however, a rhetorically daring manifesto for the new journal and the ambitions of the community it served.

Lundell’s enthusiasm and his sense of being involved in a paradigm shift are palpable. His manifesto, with the seemingly innocuous tile ‘Die phonetik als universitätsfach’ [Phonetics as a university subject] opens with a clear statement of that shift. The article starts with quotations from William Dwight Whitney (1827-1894) and from Sweet, predicting a bright phonetic future and immediately marshalling two of the leading linguists on either side of the Atlantic to the cause:

[Phonetics] will also become by itself a definite science, or department of study, having its close and important relations to physiology and acoustics, as well as to philology. Whitney 1875.

I have little doubt that before many years there will be professors of phonetics and elocution at many of the Continental universities. Sweet 1882. (Lundell 1888: 1)

With these giants looking forward, Lundell immediately looks back to the previous generations, to Bopp, Grimm and Schleicher, as ‘yesterday’s men’. His enthusiasm for what phonetics can achieve is almost unbounded. He makes the case for the role of phonetic insights in historical-comparative language study, but he also maintains that phonetics will revolutionize orthographies, the teaching of reading, the education of the deaf and dumb [die taubstummenbildung], speech pathology, the study of metrics, rhetoric and the art of singing. As if this list of beneficiaries from the science of phonetics isn’t long enough, he finally erupts: “Also auch hier mehr phonetik!” (p. 6).

While Lundell’s manifesto is a clarion call for the increased study of phonetics, as might well be expected at the start of a publication entitled Phonetische studien, reform in language teaching is the focus of many of the articles and reports which fill the pages of the early volumes. In fact it feels as though the journal can’t quite make up its mind what its role is, as witnessed by the constantly changing title in those first volumes. The constantly changing title is indicative of a community in a hurry, acting first and then thinking later, wanting to get on with what they believed to be important reforms. The first volume of 1888 was entitled Phonetische studien. Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche und praktische phonetik mit besonderer rücksicht auf den unterricht in der aussprache. So, to begin with phonetics was in the foreground with the teaching of pronunciation listed as a particular focus. The titles of subsequent volumes are as follows. Volume 2 is Phonetische studien. Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche und praktische phonetik mit besonderer rücksicht auf die phonetische reform des sprachunterrichts, such that it is not only the teaching of pronunciation that is in the spotlight now but reform in language teaching more broadly. Volume 3 is Phonetische studien. Zeitschrift für wissenschaftliche und praktische phonetik mit besonderer rücksicht auf die REFORM des sprachunterrichts, the phonetic element of the reform being no longer specified but with reform upgraded via the use of upper case letters; reform has now become more overtly visible. Volume 7 is effectively Volume 1 of Die neueren sprachen. Zeitschrift für den neusprachlichen unterricht mit dem beiblatt Phonetische Studien, so by 1893 phonetics has drifted into the background, with the former journal described as a “beiblatt” [an insert]. Volume 6 of Die neueren sprachen (1899) simply describes itself as a “fortsetzung [continuation] der phonetischen studien” and by the new century the rhetorical shift is complete, from a journal of phonetic studies to a journal of modern language teaching, appearing in 10 annual instalments. On the front of volume 10 for 1902/1903 phonetic studies are no longer mentioned at all.

Another manifestation of the immediacy of the work is the fact that reviews and replies to those reviews could appear in the same volume. The discourse is ongoing. In volume 1 Willem Sijbrand Logeman of Newton School, Rock Ferry, Birkenhead, and subsequently professor of modern languages at the South African College (later the University of Cape Town), published a series of “remarks” on Passy’s views on the phonetics of French in June 1887, and these were immediately followed by Passy’s response of August 1887. This exchange was good-natured, although Logeman did take the opportunity to have a swipe at the “enthusiasm for dealing with ‘living realities’” (Logeman 1888: 170) and the opinion of Western and others that teachers should teach their own dialect:

Would Mr Western like a Lancashire or Dorsetshire man to teach the dialect of his county as “English”? or that of Alsace or say dep. Puy de Dôme as French? (Logeman 1888: 170)

Logeman was a future professor and a textbook author, so it would be wrong to characterize this sort of disagreement as one between scholars and practitioners, but the roster of contributors is one which doesn’t discriminate between academic linguists and those dealing with language matters from a practical point of view. One of the strengths of the Reform Movement, I maintain (see Linn 2011), was precisely that practice and theory were undifferentiated; there was just the ‘living language’. This was a journal of “wissenschaftliche und praktische phonetik” [scientific and practical phonetics].

However, given the immediacy of response in this discourse community, real arguments could blow up, as when R. M‘Lintock of Liverpool published a review of Sweet’s Elementarbuch des gesprochenen englisch in volume 2 of Phonetische studien in which he objected in the strongest possible terms to Sweet’s version of London English, “wie er in gebildeten kreisen gesprochen wird” [as it is spoken in educated milieus] (Sweet 1885: iii). For M‘Lintock this was a variety which “the cultured—and even the half-cultured—of three fourths of the kingdom can scarcely hear without a feeling of somewhat scornful displeasure tempered with amusement at the curious combination of (apparent) mincing affectation and (real) slovenliness displayed by it” (M‘Lintock 1889: 212). Sweet’s ‘Reply to Mr Maclintock’s Review’ [note the misspelling of his surname] was characteristically explosive:

Mr M‘Lintock’s review … shows such utter and complacent ignorance of the elements of phonetics and philology, and involves so many gross misunderstandings of plain statements in my book that I shall not stop to discuss details, but content myself with a few general remarks. (Sweet 1890: 114).

M‘Lintock’s mournful response, published straight afterwards, notes that, regarding the “prejudices” of which Sweet accuses him, he has “no interest in them whatsoever” (M‘Lintock 1890: 115). (R. J. Lloyd (1846-1906) would later (Lloyd 1895: 52) recommend that the student of English should “choose a sound via media, and speak an English which will be recognised as pure and good everywhere”!) Academic fights make for amusing reading, but there are some serious points here about the nature of the discourse community as it talks to itself in the journal: it brought all those committed to the ‘living language’ together, regardless of their status or views; it was one of immediacy, of ‘speak now and worry about the consequences later’; it was made up of passionate people for whom language was something important.

Phonetische studien was more than just a signal that an applied lnguistics had come of age. It had a title which placed it alongside the other serious philological journals and it had an extensive international editorial board to give its contents the necessary imprimatur. From the historiographical point of view it allows us to see the Reform Movement in operation, to hear its voice. That voice is one of urgency and enthusiasm, exemplified above all in the ever-changing title but also in the way in which debate is actively taking place in its pages. This is no dry academic publication, but rather a hot-house of impassioned views about the importance of phonetics and the need for a revolution in language teaching based on the study and application of phonetics. Given this, it is noteworthy how quickly phonetics slips into the background in terms of how the journal presents itself. Scientific journals had become specialized fora, and another journal for phonetics was established at the same time. In May 1886 the first issue of Dhi Fonètik Tîtcer was published by Dhi Fonètik Tîtcerz’ Asóciécon as the brainchild of Passy (MacMahon 1986). This journal also underwent a name change, becoming le maître phonétique in 1889 before later morphing in 1970 into the Journal of the International Phonetic Association. The 1880s were heady times, and the air of excitement, infecting those within and beyond academia, the sense that language learning is important, is one that we would do well to try to recapture today.

This post is adapted from:

Linn, Andrew. forthcoming 2016. Modern foreign language teachers get a voice. The role of the journals. In: Nicola McLelland and Richard Smith (eds.), The History of Language Learning and Teaching II: 19th-20th Century Europe. Oxford: Legenda.


Christie, John R. R. 1990. The Development of the Historiography of Science. In: R. C. Olby, G. N. Cantor, J. R. R. Christie and M. J. S. Hodge, eds. Companion to the History of Modern Science. London and New York: Routledge, 5-22.

Howatt, A. P. R. & Smith, Richard C., eds. 2002. Modern Language Teaching: The Reform Movement. 5 vols. London: Routledge.

Linn, Andrew R. 2002. Quousque Tandem. Language-Teaching Reform in 19th-Century Scandinavia. The Henry Sweet Society Bulletin 38: 34-42.

Linn, Andrew R. 2008. The Birth of Applied Linguistics: The Anglo-Scandinavian School as ‘Discourse Community’. Historiographia Linguistica 35(3): 342-384.

Linn, Andrew R. 2011. Impact: Linguistics in the Real World. Histoire Epistémologie Langage 33(1): 15-27.

Lloyd, R. J. 1895. Standard English. Die neueren sprachen 2: 52-53.
Logeman, Willem S. 1888. Remarks on Paul Passy’s French Phonetics. Phonetische studien 1: 170-171.

Lundell, J. A. 1888. Die phonetik als universitätsfach. Phonetische studien 1: 1-17.
MacMahon, M. K. C. 1986. The International Phonetic Association: The First 100 Years. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 16: 30-38.

M‘Lintock, R. 1889. Review of Henry Sweet, Elementarbuch des gesprochenen englisch. Phonetische studien 2: 212-216.

M‘Lintock, R. 1890. On Mr Sweet’s Reply. Phonetische studien 3: 115.

Meadows, A. J.1979. Introduction. In: A. J. Meadows, ed. The Scientific Journal. London: Aslib, 1.

Quousque Tandem. 1882. Der Sprachunterricht muss umkehren! Ein Beitrag zur Überbürdungsfrage. Heilbronn: Gebr. Henninger.

Smith, Richard C. 2007. Wilhelm Viëtor’s Life and Career. [online] [Accessed 16 October 2015]. Available at: .
Sweet, Henry. 1885. Elementarbuch des gesprochenen englisch (grammatik, texte und glossar). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Sweet, Henry. 1890. Reply to Mr Maclintock’s Review. Phonetische studien 3: 114-115.
Viëtor, W. 1893. A New Method of Language Teaching. Educational Review 1893: 351-365

How to cite this post

Linn, Andrew. 2015. Phonetische studien — applied linguistics gets its first journal. History and Philosophy of the Language Sciences.

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Posted in 19th century, Article, History, Language teaching, Linguistics, Phonetics

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