A. C. Gimson, JIPA and the m.f.

This article appeared in the Journal of the International Phonetic Association Vol. 35 No. 2 in December 2005


A. C. Gimson was editor of Le Maître Phonétique, which evolved into the Journal of the International Phonetic Association, for 25 years from 1950. Besides his general editorial supervision, he provided those publications with two of his own early articles, over 30 reviews and numbers of congratulatory and obituary tributes. He gradually phased out the short transcribed passages of various languages he and others had provided for learners and teachers: they had become a less significant element among IPA adherents. His encouragement of progressively more substantial contributions to the pages of the m.f. inevitably led to its 1970 major transformation, with normal orthography, into the present Journal of the International Phonetic Association.


1. A recent article in these pages 'IPA vowel symbols for British English in dictionaries' (Windsor Lewis 2003) commented on some recent departures adopted in certain quarters from the set of symbols for the general-purpose transcription for British English which A. C. Gimson introduced in his 1978 revision of the Daniel Jones English Pronouncing Dictionary. This transcription of the most fully described variety of British English pronunciation is no doubt the most widely recognised manifestation of the influence of this Association in the world at large. Indeed, even some highly respected works of scholarship have been known to refer to that set of symbols as 'the IPA transcription' when, of course, this Association has very properly never involved itself in endorsing any particular set of symbols as those most suitable for representing any language in any context whatever.This year is the twentieth anniversary of Gimson's passing. He died suddenly from a long-term heart condition on the 22nd of April 1985 at the age of 67 within only a year of being elected as our President. It thus seems an appropriate moment to look back on his contribution to the progress of our journal as part of its historical development.

2. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Gimson had newly graduated, with first-class honours in French, at the age of 22. When the war ended in 1945, Daniel Jones applied for the then Major Gimson to be given priority demobilisation to be able to join the staff of the Department of Phonetics at University College. As a result he was, at the age of 28, in his post for the 1945/46 session. He became at once involved with the International Phonetic Association and in particular with this journal's predecessor Le Maître Phonétique, generally referred to in English as the 'm.f.' /'em `ef/. Only in 1970 when it ceased, in some ways sadly, to be that unique phenomenon a publication entirely in phonetic script, did it acquire its present title of the Journal of the International Phonetic Association, in short JIPA, usually in speech acronymised by English-speakers to /ʤaɪpә/.

3. Gimson was formally enrolled in the Association in 1946. Within three years he was elected to its thirty-strong administrative Council. He had already been briefly thanked in an m.f. note of Acknowledgments of the work of 'hitherto anonymous helpers' in its January/June 1947 issue specifically for making transcriptions and correcting proofs. The transcribing can only have been of one or two little anecdotes in French, no doubt chosen by Jones, for the Pupils' Section (parti dez elɛ:v). When Jones was near retirement he sent a letter to all the other members of the Council commending Gimson as a 'good phonetician' and worthy successor to himself as Secretary and Treasurer of the Association. The Secretaryship in those days carried with it the editorship of the m.f. with which Jones acknowledged that Gimson had 'for some time past been assisting' him 'unofficially'. In the January/June 1950 m.f. (at pp 21-22) Jones published that letter and recorded that, of the nineteen Council members who'd replied, eighteen had concurred (just one making a counter-suggestion) and announced that Gimson was therefore elected. He was to remain in that office for the 25 years from June 1950 until June 1975.

4. His contributions to the m.f. included, besides articles and book reviews, transcriptions for the Pupils' Section as well as editorial matter. His first accredited editorial contribution preceded his official appointment as editor when in the July/December number of 1949 he provided a note of two dozen lines (at p. 18) on The Retirement of Daniel Jones. His first article had been the 'Notes on a West Norwegian Dialect' of just over two pages (July/December 1948). This had been based on his observations of the speech of a student of his who was to become a professor of English at Oslo University. He only once more used his own journal for an article, 'The Instability of English Alveolar Articulations', a brief but valuable piece of just under two-and-a-half pages (January/June 1960).

Non-Administrative Announcements

5. Gimson's formal activities as editor began in 1951 (July/December) with 15 or so lines congratulating Jones on his seventieth birthday. For the English of this, as regularly for any other non-administrative announcements (which usually began the first section of the journal) throughout his editorship, his choice of transcription was that whose use Jones himself had established in the immediately foregoing years, what Jones as its deviser had labelled his 'Simplified' notation for English and had first exhibited in the m.f. in 1929 - not in 1931 as suggested at Abercrombie (1967:76). See Windsor Lewis (2003:143). Ten years on he began the July/December m.f. with editorial congratulations to Daniel Jones this time on his 80th birthday in 1961. Jones died in December 1967 and Gimson (January/July 1968) wrote a suitably full five-page obituary on his great mentor. The only other editorial obituary Gimson himself provided of more than a few lines was the July/December 1964 very sympathetic report of the death from a car accident of his contemporary (only five years his senior) William F. Stirling who had been working at the University of Ghana. Stirling had been through the UCL Department of Phonetics and had been a member of the IPA and a contributor to the m.f.

The 'parti dez elɛ:v'

6. For the first decade of his editorship he usually followed the established tradition, of an association which in the very first place had in fact been set up largely by an enthusiastic band of French teachers of English and other languages, of providing a Pupils' Section ('partie des élèves' in the editorial language of the day, earlier the Lerners' Korner) consisting typically of half-page pieces of French, 'Southern British' English, American English, German, Italian, Spanish and Russian, regularly in that order. These were mostly supplied by the staff of the University College Department of Phonetics. By the end of the fifties he no doubt solicited no more, and only a few seem to have been offered to him other than by Piero Fiorelli who kept up his supply of bits of Italian until 1966. They were not all regularly attributed to their transcribers but he put his own initials to four in French between 1954 and 1958, about 14 lines each of Romain Rolland, Balzac, Proust and Alphonse Daudet. He was probably responsible for at least two or three others (of Gide and Daudet etc) in the earlier fifties which were unattributed. From the beginning of his editorship in June 1950 to the July/December number of 1960 only five issues lacked a piece in 'Southern British' English. Of the 17 that were printed, one was contributed by Jones and another by J. D. O'Connor, the rest being all apparently either by G. F. Arnold or by Gimson himself.

7. His first (July/December 1953) was unattributed but unmistakeably Gimsonian. It is of some interest to students of the history of transcription as being the very first appearance in print of the precise set of symbols he was to use fourteen years later when he came to revise the Daniel Jones English Pronouncing Dictionary for its so-called thirteenth edition of 1967 ('EPD 13') by virtue of the fact that it replaced the first letter of the /ou/ symbol with a schwa. His next three all bore his initials. The first of them, fourteen lines of Evelyn Waugh (July/December 1954) was also in the EPD-13 symbol set. The second (July/December 1955), his only one to occupy a whole page, was thirty-one lines of Eric Linklater in EPD 13 but modified this time by replacing the Cardinal Vowel no. 4 symbol beginning the diphthong /au/ with the no. 5 symbol [ɑ], as he had done in a review six months earlier. This was one of the features of the 'IPE' transcription he used seven years later in his Introduction to the Pronunciation of English in 1962. He used this style again in July/December 1956 and also, without adding his initials, in January/June1957. Similarly unattributed was the eighteen-line obviously Gimsonian dialogue of January/June 1959 which reverted to unmodified EPD 13.

8. His own very last Pupils' Section piece in July/December 1959 was initialled. These fourteen lines of dialogue were historic in that they were in the transcription he was to convert the Jones EPD to for its fourteenth edition of 1977 which was to become largely the EFL publishers' consensus transcription in the eighties. The dialogue was, like the previous one, an exchange between a suburban middle-class husband and wife (George and Mary Smith who had appeared first in 1957 in two dialogues at pp 71-75 in a little-known book by Anastasijevic and Gimson published in Belgrade using the EPD 1967 transcription) who were to appear again seven years later in the material he wrote for the dozen pages of Connected Texts which were his most characteristic contribution to English Pronunciation Practice, the textbook he wrote jointly with his departmental colleague Gordon F. Arnold. That used not EPD 14 but the original 1962 set of symbols of Gimson's Introduction to the Pronunciation of English. The dialogues exhibited endearing touches of his typical gentle humour as when George advised Mary to give their new neighbours "that cheap sherry... until we get to know them better. Keep the label facing the wall".

The Reviews

9. Of the over 200 book reviews that appeared in m.f./JIPA during Gimson's editorship he contributed 31, most usually doing the shorter notices himself and handing over the more important books to others. His first three were in January/June 1951, two of them of new editions of works by Daniel Jones (The Pronunciation of English) and J. S. Kenyon (American Pronunciation). The latter evidenced his liking for the older symbols for the close-mid central vowels to which he later adhered in preference to the iota [ɩ] and kidney [ɷ] shapes, feeling that Jones had (as he remarked in a private letter to the writer of 10 Oct 64) "rather imposed them on the IPA during the war". The third review in that issue was of a book to which he was to contribute an Appendix in 1962, the Gymnastique phonétique franco-anglaise by André J. L. Gallet. In January/June 1953 he dealt amiably with a manual of English pronunciation for Italians (pp 15-16). July/December 1954 (pp 34-36) contained a very sympathetic account of an edition prepared by Bertil Sundby of the seventeenth-century text The English Teacher by Christopher Cooper.

10. All of these first five items had been written in the 'Simplified' set of symbols which Jones apparently never had the time or perhaps good enough health to substitute for the original-EPD transcription of his dictionary and of his Outline of English Phonetics. However, in his sixth review (January/June 1955) Gimson used the EPD 13 variant noted above for the July/December 1955 Pupils' Section piece with the back-vowel modification of the /au/ diphthong to /ɑu/. This was an enthusiastic account (pp 15-16) of a collection of essays on The History of Speech Education in America edited by K. R. Wallace. In July/December 1956 we find him reviewing a book on French pronunciation by the Norwegian scholar Martin Kloster Jensen and three new editions of Jones's works (the EPD, The Pronunciation of English and Phonetic Readings in English) for all of which he employed Jones's 'Simplified' transcription again. In January/June 1957 he dealt fairly briefly (in a page and a quarter) in French - the only time he departed from English for a review - with a Dictionnaire des Difficultés de la Langue Française by Adolphe V. Thomas.

11. A kindly brief account of a seemingly weak book on English Speech Rhythm in July/December 1957 reverted to EPD 13 unmodified but in January/June 1958 (pp 16-19) he was back to unmodified 'Simplified' for the first of his four longest reviews, a characteristically generous account of the American scholar Claude Merton Wise's Applied Phonetics. In the same issue he devoted a friendly paragraph each to a Dictionnaire des Locutions Françaises (by M. Rat) and a Nouveau Larousse Classique (a dictionary aimed at schools) using the same transcriptional style. January/July 1959 saw him giving two pages (12-14) of consideration (in EPD 13 again) to a short pamphlet by George L. Trager in which the Gimson aside on the IPA alphabet is now of historical interest as reminding us how things have moved on in later decades.

12. The IPA alphabet has a somewhat special character in that it has evolved over eighty years and because decisions as to the course of its development have always been taken by its Council rather than by a mind of more single purpose. Its present state can be criticised for a certain ad-hoc flavour and for some lack of logical relationship between sound categories and symbolisation. During the last twenty years, however, few important modifications have been made, and this stability has permitted some standardisation of symbol shapes among printers. Our phonetic alphabet is now the most widely used in the world, and one cannot ignore the fact that any wholesale reorganisation of it would create a great deal of confusion and have very lengthy repercussions upon the usefulness of the alphabet as a tool in general use. Our alphabet has never aimed at being able to symbolise comprehensively those 'non-speech sounds' which may be produced by the vocal apparatus. Indeed, the tendency has recently been to provide an alphabet suitable primarily for phonemic representation of languages, at the same time furnishing such diacritics and slight modifications of symbols as will permit an impressionistic and unsystematic notation of speech.

13. In July/December 1959 the m.f. reviewed a record nine books three of which Gimson handled himself, namely Spoken English by the Australian A. G. Mitchell, From Sounds to Rhythm and Intonation by G. Faure and French Phonetics Illustrated by L. Guitard and L. Marandet, all transcribed (pp 39-43) in EPD 13 again. January/June 1960 (15-16) contained a very complimentary description of The Bases of Speech by the Americans G. W. Gray and Claude Merton Wise. The choice of transcription reminds us that he had now in hand his most important work, the Introduction to the Pronunciation of English, for this review was written in what was to become the 'IPE' set of vowel and consonant symbols. On just this one occasion he used IPE without the inessential length marks. Incidentally he never used IPE in any m.f. editorial matter except in his July/December 1970 valedictory to transcription as the medium of that journal.

14. July/December 1961 was back with the Jones 'Simplified' set of symbols in a brief notice of a slight book on English Phonetics for Spanish-speaking Students by W. F. Stirling. In January/June 1962 he chose original EPD evidently because that was the transcription that had been used by its author L. A. Hill in the Drills and Tests in English Sounds being reviewed. For the American William A. Smalley's Manual of Articulatory Phonetics he returned in July/December 1962, after the publication of his Introduction to the Pronunciation of English, to IPE, with which he continued for his July/December 1963 comments on P. A. D. MacCarthy's version of Androcles and the Lion in the (George Bernard) Shaw alphabet. It was in January/June 1966 that he next turned to reviewing when he generously drew attention to N. C. Scott's revision of his 23-year-old phonetic reader English Conversations which used Jones's 'Simplified' transcription, the natural thing therefore to employ in discussing it. He returned to IPE in January/June 1970 for his longest review while editor (nearly three and a half pages) and his last in transcription. This was of the weighty encyclopaedic Manual of Phonetics edited by Bertil Malmberg. Two years later in June 1972 (in JIPA 2, 29-31) he gave a very genial welcome in two and a half pages to The Indispensable Foundation a compilation of the writings on phonetics of the great Henry Sweet by the late Eugénie Henderson. This short review is well worth anyone's re-reading.

15. In his remaining two and a half years as editor of JIPA he only reviewed on two occasions, each time taking a pair of books related in subject matter. In December 1973 (3,101-103) he dealt with a weighty volume by a French scholar, Hubert H. Greven, on Elements of English Phonology and a modest set of English Pronunciation Exercises by a German writer, Kamilla Knopf, making his few criticisms of them in his usual generous and courteous way. His final pair of reviews as editor, in December 1974 (4, 91-96), were of books that clearly interested him particularly as a phonetic lexicographer. These were the Dictionnaire de la Prononciation Française by André Martinet and Henriette Walter and a new edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English which he was to agree to become involved with a few years later when the very general acceptance in the publishing world of the new transcription to which he had converted the Jones English Pronouncing Dictionary made it prudent for its publishers to incorporate its symbol set into the OALDCE.

16. After his retirement from the editor's chair, Gimson only contributed one further review to JIPA, though at almost four pages it was his longest of all. This was his June 1977 (7, 32-35) account of La Dynamique des Phonèmes dans le Lexique Français Contemporain, a study by Henriette Walter based on the material collected for her dictionary with Martinet. He was evidently fascinated by the many changes French pronunciation had undergone from the model with which he had been presented as a student and perhaps slightly envious of the resources the French had been able to put into an investigation of a kind that he would no doubt have very much liked to have seen carried out for English.

17. Gimson's encouragement of progressively more substantial contributions to the pages of Le Maître Phonétique over the first twenty years of his editorship led him steadily to an important conclusion. The limitation to phonetic transcription the m.f. had sustained had undoubtedly often been felt to impose an extra strain on writers frequently struggling to express themselves on complex topics. What was more, it could hardly be doubted that the effort to read the many different types of transcriptions involved was not fully congenial to the greater part of the potential readership. Printing difficulties and costs were also a significant factor. In earlier days the three IPA collections of Miscellanea Phonetica in 1914, 1954 and 1958 in normal spelling had served to ease this problem to some slight extent. However, Gimson was convinced of the practical wisdom of a transformation to normal orthography and finally brought it about in 1970. There was surely confirmation of the rightness of his decision in the way that JIPA has ever since gone from strength to strength.


I am very happy to record my gratitude for the assistance of Ernestina Landau of Zagreb and for the very valuable comments I received on the drafts of the above text from Beverley Collins and Mike MacMahon.


ABERCROMBIE, D. (1964). English Phonetic Texts. London: Faber & Faber.

ARNOLD, G. F. & GIMSON, A. C. (1965). English Pronunciation Practice. London: University of London Press Ltd.

GIMSON, A. C. (1948). Notes on a West Norwegian Dialect. Le Maître Phonétique 90, 20-22.

GIMSON, A. C. (1960). The Instability of English Alveolar Articulations. Le Maître Phonétique 113, 7-10.

GIMSON, A. C. & ANASTASIJEVIC, K. (1957). Engleska Fonetska Čitanka. Belgrade: Nolit. [Spelling correction of 2005 text]

HENDERSON, E. J. A. ed. (1971). The Indispensable Foundation: A Selection from the writings of Henry Sweet. London: OUP.

WINDSOR LEWIS, J. (2003). IPA vowel symbols for British English in dictionaries. Journal of the International Phonetic Association 33, 143-152.


Gimson didn't provide reviews to any other journals to the best of my knowledge except for one of 
General Phonetics by Roe-Merrill S. Heffner
The Modern Language Review, Vol. 47, No. 1 (Jan., 1952), pp. 96-97   ( 2 pages)
Published by: Modern Humanities Research Association