Friday, 14 August 2009


At last week’s PTLC Beverley Collins gave an interesting paper about a phonetician none of us had probably ever heard of. A hundred years ago, several years before Daniel Jones, a Swedish textbook writer, Jon Arvid Afzelius (1856-1918), published his Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of Modern English (in Swedish Engelsk Uttalsordbok). This work comprised some 24,000 headwords transcribed phonetically, together with large numbers of inflected, derived, and compound forms. Like later pronouncing dictionaries, it gave no information about the meaning of the words, concentrating only on their pronunciation.
Collins says that the transcriptions are ‘overwhelmingly accurate’, though with certain weaknesses in place names and compounds.
Afzelius’ transcription system largely follows that of Henry Sweet. He writes þ rather than θ for the voiceless dental fricative; the vowels are written as shown in this table.

Jones published a short review of Afzelius’s dictionary in Le Maître Phonétique (1910), criticizing it for not using IPA but praising its realistic representation of actual pronunciation. But the dictionary seems to have had very little impact outside Sweden.
Collins comments,
In 1909, Jones was perhaps already pondering the possibility of producing something very much on the same lines as Afzelius’s effort – this was to emerge many years later as his English Pronouncing Dictionary. On its appearance in 1917, the EPD (as it is always known) was rightly hailed as a masterly achievement. It is nonetheless curious that amongst all the acknowledgements, sources and copious book lists that Jones includes in his preliminary material, one name is conspicuously absent – there is no mention of Afzelius.


  1. There's a good Udtaleordbog for Danish, by Peter Molbæk Hansen (Gyldendal). It includes inflected forms, and has no definitions.

    Such a dictionary is quite necessary for Danish, in which the correspondence between grapheme and phoneme isn't too clear.

    The number of vowel phonemes in Danish seems hard to determine, as the disappearance of post-vocalic /r/ in some cases has complicated things. It would probably be best to pretend that the /r/ is still there.

  2. Your mapping table has [aʊ] twice, for Afzelius's ai and his au.


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