Obituary on Professor J. D. O'Connor

followed by a list of his publications and information on Studies in General and English Phonetics Essays in Honour of Professor J. D. O'Connor published by Routledge, London & New York 1995

Professor Emeritus Joseph Desmond O'Connor of University College London was universally with happy informality known as 'Doc'. He was born on the 10th of December 1919 and grew up in the handsome spa and market town of Harrogate in what was then the West Riding of Yorkshire 200 miles northwest of London. His forebears had moved from Ireland first to Newcastle. His father was a Postmaster in different parts of the country including Northallerton and Maidenhead. His mother came from Harrogate where her father was at one time the Mayor.

For his senior schooling, like a number of Harrogate boys, Doc travelled daily to the Jesuit foundation St Michael's College at Leeds. From there he proceeded to University College London in 1937. When the Second World War broke out he was in the final year of a BA Honours Course in French. Despite the fact that his Department, like the Department of Phonetics, had been evacuated to Aberystwyth he got a first. Before the end of 1940 he was off to the westcountry to train with the Royal Armoured Corps. He served in the army throughout the war, like his friend A. C. Gimson rising to the rank of Major. His talents had greatly impressed his teacher of French phonetics the redoubtable Hélène Coustenoble and in turn Professor Daniel Jones, the founder and Head of the Department of Phonetics at UCL. In 1945 he returned to the Department to join its teaching staff.

He was never an avid globetrotter though he did accompany Daniel Jones and other colleagues to take part in teaching courses on English in Denmark and in France. A notable stay was his several months in 1954 at the famous Haskins Laboratory in New York. In 1964 he was persuaded to take over from Randolph Quirk the running of the annual University of London Summer School of English, in its heyday the most remarkable course of its kind in the country. While he was in charge, it regularly accommodated well over 200 participants and engaged as visiting lecturers many famous people from a wide variety of British walks of life. He conducted it with great good humour and modesty and was immensely popular with the students and no less so with his numerous teaching staff until he finally gave it up in 1973. Otherwise he was not often willing to operate outside of his own Department or even too far from his beloved local cricket club for that matter.

University College recognised his splendid contribution to his subject and his important part in the development of his distinguished Department, through which have passed so many leading figures in the field of phonetics, by appointing him to a Chair of Phonetics in the session beginning in 1976. At his slightly early retirement from teaching in 1980 the title of Emeritus Professor was conferred upon him. He died at the age of 78 on the 15th of July 1998.

His publications

Doc's publications were many and varied. He wrote quite a number of reviews, some of books only available in French or Danish. He produced more books falling in that important and these days undervalued category of phonetic reader than anyone else has or is likely to. His masterpiece, the amazingly wide-ranging Penguin Phonetics, is of course very widely recognised as probably the best general introduction to the subject, rivalled only by Abercrombie's Elements. Happy the newcomer to the subject who is able to read both of them.

He was no less famous for the 1961/1973 Intonation of Colloquial English on which he collaborated with his distinguished colleague Gordon F. Arnold. The highly effective and satisfyingly accurate recordings they made of a substantial amount of its text on more than one occasion richly benefited many generations of students of the subject. His superb Better English Pronunciation (CUP) was described in the Times Educational Supplement in March 1975 as a book 'which can quite safely be said to be the most effective one ever written to help the ordinary learner to improve his pronunciation'. Besides this he wrote articles that have been acknowledged as classics of the literature of phonetics such as the 1953 Word article which earned a place among two dozen of the most seminal articles on the subject of Phonetics in Linguistics as selected by J. Laver and W. E. Jones in their 1973 volume of fundamental readings for postgraduates. The last of his various fruitful collaborations was Sounds English (1989) with his only daughter Mrs Clare Fletcher who was also the other voice in the very lively recording that accompanied his 1973 Phonetic Drill Reader.

The following list is not complete - it takes no account of his broadcast scripts or teaching films - but it is hoped that it omits nothing of major importance.

1947 The phonetic system of a dialect of Newcastle-upon-Tyne Le Maître Phonétique

1948 New Phonetic Readings. Switzerland: A. Francke AG, Berne

1950 Review of K. L. Pike's Phonemics in Le Maître Phonétique

1951a Styles of English pronunciation English Language Teaching 6

1951b Review of Trager & Smith An Outline of English Structure in Le Maître Phonétique

1952a RP and the reinforcing glottal stop English Studies Vol. 33

1952b Phonetic aspects of the spoken pun English Studies Vol. 33

1952c A transcription from The Wind in the Willows (K. Grahame) Le Maître Phonétique

1953a Vowel, consonant and syllable - a phonological definition (with J. L. M. Trim) Word IX/2

1953b Review of Bullard & Lindsay Speech at Work in Le Maître Phonétique

1955a A course of English intonation. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff

1955b The intonation of tag questions English English Studies 36, 97-105

1956a English Intonation. Stockholm: Radiotjänst.

1956b Review of Charbonneau La Palatalisation de t d en canadien-français

in Le Maître Phonétique

1957a The Fall-Rise Tone in English Moderna Språk Vol. LI No.1. Sweden

1957b Acoustic Cues for the Perception of Initial /w, j, r, l/ in English (with Gerstman & al.)

Word Vol. 13

1957c Recent Work in English Phonetics Phonetica Vol. 1

1957d Review of David Abercrombie Problems and Principles in Le Maître Phonétique

1957e Review of Paul Christophersen An English Phonetics Course in Le Maître Phonétique

1958a Synthesis of English Vowels (with G. F. Arnold & al.) Language and Speech

1958b Review of J. R. Firth Papers in Linguistics 1934-51 in Le Maître Phonétique

1960a Review of Peter Strevens Aural Aids in Language Teaching in Le Maître Phonétique

1960b Review of Thomson & Lyons Spoken English in Le Maître Phonétique

1961a Intonation of Colloquial English (with G. F. Arnold). London: Longman

1961b Review of J. Vachek Dictionnaire de Linguistique de l'École de Prague in Le Maître Phonétique

1961c Review of Eva Sivertsen Cockney Phonology in Le Maître Phonétique

1962a BBC Course of English Pronunciation London: BBC Enterprises

1962b BBC Course of English Intonation London: BBC Enterprises

1963a Review of A. Martinet A Functional View of Language in Le Maître Phonétique

1963b Review of G. Faure Recherches sur les caractères et le rôle des éléments musicaux dans la prononciation anglaise in Le Maître Phonétique

1963c Review of D. Pasquale A Practical Handbook of English Pronunciation in Le Maître Phonétique

1964 The perceptibility of certain word boundaries (with O. Tooley) in In Honour of Daniel Jones D. Abercrombie et al. (eds). London: Longman

1965a Review of J. Vachek A Prague School Reader in Linguistics in Le Maître Phonétique

1965b The perception of time intervals Progress Report 2 Phonetics Laboratory, University College London

1967a Better English Pronunciation. London: Cambridge University Press

1967b Review of Eugénie Henderson Tiddim Chin in Le Maître Phonétique

1968a The duration of the foot in relation to the number of component sound segments

Progress Report Phonetics Laboratory, University College London

1968b Review of H. A. Koefoed Fonemik in Le Maître Phonétique

1968c Review: B. S. Andrésen Pre-glottalisation in English Standard Pronunciation in Le Maître Phonétique.

1968d Review of P. Garde L'accent in Le Maître Phonétique

1968e Daniel Jones 1881-1967 English Studies 49: 238-9.

1970 Review of David Crystal Prosodic Systems and Intonation in English in Le Maître Phonétique

1971 Advanced Phonetic Reader London: Cambridge University Press

1973a Intonation of Colloquial English (with G. F. Arnold) Second Edition. London: Longman

1973b Phonetic Drill Reader London: Cambridge University Press

1973c Phonetics. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd

1973d Review of David Wilkins Linguistics in Language Teaching in Le Maître Phonétique

1980 Better English Pronunciation Second Edition. London: Cambridge University Press

1989 Sounds English (with Clare Fletcher) London: Longman

About the papers in Studies in General and English Phonetics

Part I General Phonetics and Phonological Theory

The contributions to this volume have been divided into four groups but the categories adopted inevitably overlap in various ways.

In particular a number of items placed in Part II Pitch, Intonation and Rhythm could equally well have gone into Part IV The Phonetics of Non-Mothertongue English.

1 On some neutralisations and archiphonemes in English allegro speech

Tsutomo ("Steve") Akamatsu who, like his wife Maryvonne, a fellow phonetician, has happy memories of sitting at Doc's feet at University College London, applies his "functionalist" approach with logic and clarity to some well-known neutralisations in English phonology and draws our attention, among other things, to developments that have come about by 'loosening of articulation'.

2 The phonetics of neutralisation: the case of Australian coronals

Andy Butcher's paper on some consonantal features in a variety of Australian languages, reminds me irresistibly of the early reports of naturalists on the amazingly novel flora and fauna of the antipodes. Rich alike in its theoretical speculation and its solid body of field observations, it includes accounts of some types of human articulations little parallelled in the northern hemisphere where so much the majority of phonetic observers have functioned.

3 Some articulatory characteristics of the tap

Bruce Connell starts from an examination by electropalatography of the tap articulations of a speaker of Ibibio, one of the Lower Cross languages of South Eastern Nigeria, and opens the discussion out into a searching reconsideration of the nature of tap articulations in general and of their relationships not merely with flaps but even with stops and approximants. He argues that solely distinguishing of stops from taps by duration leaves out of account the at least equally important matter of linguo-palatal contact.

4 Assimilations of alveolar stops and nasals in connected speech

Bill Hardcastle deals with certain English assimilations in an immensely rewarding practical way using fairly recently developed techniques like electropalatography and laryngography to reveal to us the gross over-simplifications that merely auditory analyses have limited us to in the past.

5 Field procedures in forensic speaker recognition

Hermann Künzel, Germany's leading forensic phonetician, has produced an impressive survey of the controversial field of forensic speaker identification which is about as satisfying and authoritative a treatment of the topic as one could imagine at anything like a moderate length. Certainly, for anyone who feels inclined to dip a toe into this topic, there could be no better choice of the first thing to read.

6 Voice types in automated telecommunications applications

John Laver, with characteristic lucidity and thoroughness, discusses the various possibilities and choices involved in the employment of computer-incorporated recorded vocal responses (whether of synthetic or human speech) of machine to telephone caller for a wide range of possible situations. This important topic, which so recently belonged only in science fiction, is becoming a more urgent real-life problem day by day.

7 The effect of context on the transcription of vowel quality

Murray Nairn and Jim Hurford used digital processing to excise steady-state portions of vowels from certain CVC contexts and provided the results suitably disguised along with the same vowels in their original consonantal surroundings to four professional phoneticians for transcription. Notable variability between the transcribers was found in the judgements of the vowel qualities. The results were seen to support the contention that formant transitions aid vowel identification and to throw doubt upon the complete aptness of the usual vowel chart 'as a map of the real human possibilities'.

8 Place of articulation features for clicks: anomalies for universals

Tony Traill examines data from assimilation and language change in the Khoisan languages of southern Africa (Bushman and Hottentot are the two best known) which provide an important new perspective on the natural classes of clicks for which the traditional purely articulation-based categorisations are shown to be unsatisfactory and best replaced by phonetic classifications based on their acoustic features.

9 Postura: clear and dark consonants etcetera

Those who know 'Luke' Van Buuren for the radical thinker he is will certainly not be disappointed with this paper in which in convincing and entertaining fashion he makes the case for the recognition of what he terms neatly the 'postura'. He's not afraid to point out where he thinks Daniel Jones was 'sloppy' and offers forthright condemnation of the unfortunate way the term 'labialisation' is traditionally misapplied.

Part II Pitch, Intonation and Rhythm

10 Spelling aloud: a preliminary study of idiomatic intonation

Patricia and Michael Ashby's stimulating experiment makes some fascinating points and raises still more. It reminds me of my frequently uncomfortable reactions to using an answerphone which gives a lot of useful information by a realistically synthesised voice which, however, gives all numbers on a rising tone but all zeros falling no matter what the context. The algorithm they produce should enable an important step forward in the design of chips to provide natural prosodies for synthetic speech.

11 Rises in English

Alan Cruttenden takes on one of the most widely discussed topics in current intonation studies and deals with certain rising intonations especially heard in more northerly British cities (in Ulster, Glasgow, Newcastle, Birmingham etc) and in regions around the rim of the Pacific Ocean (Australia, California, Canada). This account of the "High Rise Tone" phenomenon is no doubt the fullest and most important treatment it has received to date.

12 Documenting rhythmical change

Dave Crystal who, in association with Randolph Quirk and also in his independent work, has made some of the most notable ever contributions to the study of English rhythm, turns again to the topic with some characteristically lively comments on its possible future development. They are conveyed with a highly diverse and diverting variety of illustrative references and it's perhaps possible that his tongue edges just a little into his cheek at times.

13 The social distribution of intonation patterns in Belfast

The data that Ellen Douglas-Cowie, Roddy Cowie and Joan Rahilly have assembled have clearly justified their impression that it might be rewarding to compare the intonational habits of Belfast people by sex, generation and class affiliation. They rightly point out that sociophonetic investigations have unwarrantably been almost exclusively hitherto in the domain of segmental data and they convincingly point the way forward to a useful broadening of the field.

14 Principles of intonation typology

Tony Fox's consideration of intonational typology started from fresh data, on a small number of general parameters, of eight prosodically disparate languages viz English, French, German, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Mende and Zulu. Among his many interesting conclusions is one that a category such as 'nuclear tone' is not tenable as a universal and in fact that a typology of intonation as such is not feasible since inter-language differences can be ascribed to the different overall prosodic structures of the languages rather than to the intonational features themselves.

15 Intonational stereotype: a re-analysis

Jill House throws herself energetically into the fray in one of the most extensively disputed areas of intonation theory, the analysis of tonal patterns considered to be related to the expression of stereotyped ideas. She brings to it insights that are the fruits of, among other things, work she has done observing numbers of telephone conversations where enquiries of a repetitive kind are being answered. She displays a thoroughly independent outlook and offers some interesting conclusions.

16 Speech fundamental frequency over the telephone and face-to-face: some implications for forensic phonetics

Allen Hirson, Peter French and David Howard, two academic phoneticians and an ex-academic who is now Britain's leading specialist in forensic phonetics, investigated the pitch of the speaking voice as heard over a telephone line and in face-to-face communication from twenty-four youngish male subjects. Among their suggestions regarding the forensic relevance of their findings is one that, where fundamental frequency from a telephone caller is lower than that from a direct speech sample, it may be taken as strongly indicating that different speakers are likely to be involved.

17 The effect of emphasis on declination in English intonation

Francis Nolan describes an experiment designed to contribute to the debate among tonologists as to whether declination, the progressive lowering of fundamental frequency that generally characterises intonation units, is an overall feature of whole units or derives essentially only from individual relationships with immediately preceding pitch accents. The experiment is closely modelled on a previous one by two American scholars but with an important modification in that emphases were introduced on particular items in the read-aloud lists that were their basis. His results were rewardingly positive.

18 Nucleus placement in Spanish and English

Héctor Ortiz-Lira gives the results of tests carried out to provide experimental evidence of Spanish-speakers' departures from the norms of English sentence accentuation especially when English does not place the nucleus on the last lexical item in the word group. Thirty-five fairly randomly selected Chilean teachers were recorded reading dialogues. Interference from Spanish-language habits duly showed up in their re-stressing of given information and accenting of sentence-final adverbials etc.

19 Rhythm and duration in Spanish

Graham Pointon reports an investigation of Spanish rhythm based on six readings of the familiar IPA version of the Aesop fable The North Wind and the Sun. His measurements of the durations of the segments, of their syllables and of the inter-stress intervals confirmed him in his rejection of the traditional classification of Spanish as a syllable-timed language. He proposes instead to assign it to a new category "segment-timed" which he argues is also the most appropriate categorisation of infant speech.

20 The boundaries of intonation units

Paul Tench addresses the topic of the intonation unit boundary. He carefully reviews the work of the chief writers to have most recently tackled this problematic field and in particular draws attention to the weaknesses of Halliday's handling of the problem, finally opting for an approach that profits especially from the work of Jassem and Pike.

21 Stylisation of the falling tone in Hungarian intonation

Laslo Varga gives an account of the parallels and dissimilarities between the intonational treatment of stereotypical expressions in English and in his native Hungarian. In general he finds that the formal and functional properties of the Hungarian "stylized fall" are remarkably though not precisely similar to those of the corresponding English phenomenon. Although he apparently accepts the Robert Ladd line in terminology his discussion does something to undermine this questionable recent orthodoxy in the explanation of the semantic value of the pitch pattern in question.

22 The teaching of English intonation

This item, by the editor, deals with questions of the teaching of English intonation to those for whom the language is not their mothertongue. It argues that too many teachers are doubtful of the adequacy of their handling of the matter. It suggests that in spontaneous speech only tonicity presents real problems. For those who wish to read aloud literature as authentically as native speakers some traditional texts are recommended.

Part III The Phonetics of Mothertongue English

23 A 'tenny' rate

John Baldwin, in discussing consonant capture, offers many interesting examples of the ways English speakers may quite often be heard to depart from, the traditional 'rules' by which the mainstream forms of English generally don't allow the final consonants of words to attach themselves to vowels beginning following words. He is able to draw for evidence on his files of observations as the country's longest active practitioner in the field of forensic phonetics.

24 Pronunciation and the rich points of culture

Nik Coupland ventures into a very controversial area with his provocative comments in the hinterland between between phonetics and sociolinguistics. He sees all proper-name pronunciations as having rights and obligations attached to them. Among various comments regarding pronunciation and cultural identity, he points out how certain local anglicisations of Welsh words "subvert Welsh ethnicity" at Cardiff where so many born and bred there like myself are less than enthusiastic to be labelled "Welsh".

25 Spelling pronunciation and related matters in New Zealand English

Laurie Bauer offers us salutory help in avoiding too simplistic a view of the categorising of various versions of words as "spelling pronunciations". The conservative speaker may find his new data something of a chamber of horrors but he points out a direction in which we needn't doubt that we all travel further every day. He adds some interesting speculations regarding what he thinks may be a tendency towards syllable timing and others about the social causes of the phenomenon.

26 Quantifying English homophones and minimal pairs

John Higgins makes enterprising use of a database in the form of a very substantial English wordlist to establish remarkably complete accounts of various types of English homophones. His findings illustrate, amongst other things, the fact that computers can now be used to take a good deal of the drudgery out of the compilation of useful practice materials for the teaching of English pronunciation.

27 Consonant-associated resonance in three varieties of English

John Kelly's stimulating account of consonant 'resonance' contrasts that exist between the accents of three regions of England reminds one that there are more things differentiating people's accents than have yet been fully accounted for. It deals with complexes of articulatory elements which extend to different degrees over stretches of speech in various language varieties and points to new research opportunities in an area which, as he rightly insists, is not merely of phonetic but also of phonological interest.

28 Syllabification and rhythm in non-segmental phonology

John Local, from a basis of non-segmental Firthian phonology, Abercrombian word-rhythm analysis etc, deals with matters of timing and rhythm in respect of word-syllabification and ambisyllabicity. He illustrates his conclusions from his work on speech synthesis using his YorkTalk speech generation system to impressive effect.

29 The vowels of Scottish English: formants and features

Derrick McClure, having examined the monophthongs of seven speakers from widely separated parts of Scotland, uses his spectrographic data to devise an economical distinctive feature system for Scottish Standard English as a whole that is plainly strikingly different from what would be applicable to the other well known varieties of Standard English.

30 A neglected feature of British East Midlands accents and its possible implications for the history of vowel merger in English

John Maidment draws attention to a little noticed feature of a traditional-dialect mainly eastern and northern Midland value of the vowel in words such as shirt which has occurred in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Cheshire, Staffordshire and his native Derbyshire in a form with a quality comparable to an ordinary version of shot or short.

31 Mixing and fudging in Midland and southern dialects of England

Clive Upton begins with what happens to the cup and foot vowels at the transitional zones between dialect regions in northern and southern England where groups of words may show either a mixture of two different types of sound distribution or neither of two alternatives but an intermediate compromise sound. But he goes beyond that and, among various matters of note, he shows (with an illuminating map) that the ancient quality of the cup vowel has been found to have persisted in very southerly areas indeed.

32 The long vowels of Vancouver English

Henry Warkentyne and John Esling draw attention to a vowel quality difference between Canadian English and General American that has been hitherto overlooked. They point out that, by contrast with the General American tendency to raise the "ash" vowel /æ/, Western Canadian English seems to share the southern British tendency to lower it. Their data on 128 speakers of diverse age, class and sex taken from an auditory Survey of Vancouver English made by Gregg et al. in 1985 clearly demonstrates that the well-known /ai/ and /au/ differences are not the only ones of note between the Canadian and the General American accents of English.

33 New syllabic consonants in English

John Wells, in his article "Syllabification and allophony" in our sister volume Studies in the Pronunciation of English (ed. S. Ramsaran, London:Routledge 1990: 85), confessed to being worried by "the apparently wayward behaviour of /r/" in words like memorise in which it clearly begins the last syllable instead of belonging to the previous one as predicted by his theory of English syllabification set out in that article. His extension of that theory with the ingenious addition of a new rule of "sonorant left capture" expounded in the present article means that he is now a happy man about such things.

Part IV The Phonetics of Non-Mothertongue English

34 Approaches to articulatory setting in foreign-language teaching

Bev Collins and Inger Mees are pioneers in the application of voice quality sudies to language teaching, offering new techniques to the next generation of teachers. Their work makes new observations and raises many interesting questions. Just two are: 'How far can General American speakers be assumed to share a set of vocal-setting features?' and 'Are the specifically GA features that Danish users of English may acquire likely to increase their intelligibility and/or acceptability to non-GA interlocutors?'

35 The English accent of the Shilluk speaker

Yves Le Clézio, in investigating Shilluk, a little-known and not populously spoken Nilotic laguage of southern Sudan, needed to record many of his specimen words with accompanying English glosses which have provided the materials for this snapshot of Shilluk-influenced English in which, among its various interesting features, we learn that confusion can occur between /p/ and /f/, between /t/ and /s/ and even between /k/ and /tʃ/.

36 Segmental errors in the pronunciation of Danish speakers of English: some pedagogical strategies

Inge Livbjerg and Inger Mees demonstrate strikingly and with great practicality what pitfalls there are in the teaching of pronunciation if the teacher has not got an adequately precise and up-to-date knowledge of the phonetics of both the interfering language and the target model. It's very appropriate that some of their data derive from recordings of Doc O'Connor working with Inge on her English pronunciation a couple of decades ago.

37 Describing the pronunciation of loanwords from English

Jan Posthumus addresses himself cogently to the widespread 'ignorance of the basic realities of loanword pronunciation in native language settings' vigorously demolishing the fallacy that any departure from the precise phonetic values of the lending language is regrettable fall from grace. He makes his case by reference to the behaviour of English loans in Dutch. The misapprehension taints the practice of the compilers of even the best English dictionaries (the OED Second Edition 1989 p. xxxiii ominously refers to its "phonetic representation of unassimilated foreign words"). Now that we are getting CD/ROM versions of dictionaries with audible pronunciations this is a truly timely topic to have raised.

38 What do EFL teachers need to know about pronunciation

David Taylor offers his optimistic recipe for "a new lease of life for phonetics and phonology in the context of pronunciation teaching". His proposal is that teachers should not focus on imparting a particular accent of English but should "take the transcription itself as the target" because the transcriptions of Gimson, Wells etc represent "something much wider" than is explicitly purported by their purveyors. It's interesting to consider how far he is recommending a new departure or the recognition of a fact of life.