The contribution to English phonetic studies of

Professor Wiktor Jassem

(This is a very slightly amended and corrected version of the article that appeared at pp 19-21 of volume Number 87 of The Phonetician in 2003.)

Wiktor Jassem was born in the historic city of Krakow in Poland on the 11th of June 1922 and died on the 7th of January 2016. The elder son of a lawyer, he received his schooling in the city of his birth until, with the coming of the Second World War, all its schools were formally closed. However, he continued his education with clandestine classes to university level in English and German and was himself a secret teacher of English until the end of the war.

His first official teaching post was as a lecturer in English at the University of Wrocław. While on the staff of that university, he managed, with the help of the British Council, first to attend a summer school for teachers of English in 1946 and then in 1947/48 to spend a study year at the Department of Phonetics of University College London where he came under the influence of the distinguished Hungarian-born pioneer of acoustic phonetics Péter B. Dénes. He affectionately remembers at that time reading Chaucer aloud under the supervision of A. C. Gimson and having twice-weekly tutorials with J. D. O'Connor. He acknowledges them both as major influences on his thinking, as he does of the works of Daniel Jones the Department's founder.

In 1948 he started collecting materials for his doctoral thesis, especially by listening to broadcasts of modern drama from the BBC World Service (as it was subsequently renamed) which provided useful repeats of its transmissions. This led to his first important book Intonation of Colloquial English (1951) which already amply witnessed his highly independent thinking. In 1952 when Stalin, it seems, decreed that there were good languages and bad, and that English was a "bad" one, he found himself obliged largely to forsake English phonetics for a while, but he was able to join the Department of General Linguistics at Posnań. At about this time he wrote his book on Polish accent which came out in 1961.

When in 1960 the Department of English at that University re-opened he was in at its beginning but during the period 1960 to 1962 he was to spend a stimulating eighteen months at Stockholm working with Gunnar Fant, and by 1963 he had set up the first Department of Phonetics at Posnań. Shortly after another spell in anglophonia, this time teaching at the Summer Institute of Linguistics at Ann Arbor, in 1968, he set up his own Department of Phonetics and Acoustic Phonetics Laboratory under the aegis of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

The work of this Department was very much concerned with the analysis, synthesis and recognition of speech within a speech technology programme but with a strong linguistic component. Among a variety of investigations carried out was an extensive one into the intonation of Polish. Among the speech synthesis systems they devised has been one which outputs unrestricted-text Polish speech in practically real time when put in from an ordinary computer keyboard. In this programme a phonemic transcription of the input could be produced as fast as the attached printer could put it out. The Department presented to the Polish Central Research Committee a long-term proposal aimed at automatic translation of spoken Polish to and from spoken English in real time. He envisaged "in the not-so-very-distant future" telephone conversations in which either side would speak their own language and hear immediate responses in their own language (by translation).

A lifelong interest in mathematics led him to allow himself the pleasure of acquiring a DSc in Acoustics in 1973, the year which saw the publication of his book on The Fundamentals of Acoustic Phonetics. A later rather long absence from Posnań was eight months spent at the University of Calgary at Alberta in Canada in 1977-78.

His long list of well over 200 publications includes naturally a large number on and in his native language. Besides writing and editing books he has contributed many articles to learned journals notably a dozen or so to that of the International Phonetic Association on the governing Council of which he has served continuously for well over half a century.

His works on English include the regularly revised eight editions of Fonetyka Języka Angielskiego (English Phonetics), many editions of Podręcznik Wymowy Angielskiej (Handbook of English Pronunciation) and two editions of his Phonology of Modern English. This prodigious volume of 776 pages is the most remarkable and original treatment of its subject ever written by a non-native speaker of English or for that matter by anyone at all. It has yet to receive the full recognition it deserves no doubt largely because it appeared only in rather imperfectly printed versions in Poland. An international publisher would do well to take it up. It was reviewed in some detail by the present writer at pages 73-77 in Volume 22 (1992) of the Journal of the International Phonetic Association. (See the Reviews section of this website.)

A later book, published by PWN Warsaw in 1994, was a completely new 295-page volume of practical Exercises in English Pronunciation. This was notable for the thoroughness by which every one of its transcriptions was "all-inclusive", meaning that they indicated "both the segmental and all the linguistically pertinent suprasegmental features" of their texts. It embodied a very wide range of lexical items.


Jassem, Wiktor (1951) Intonation of Colloquial English. Travaux de la Société des Sciences et des Lettres de Wrocław, Seria A Nr 45. Wrocław:Wrocławska Drukarnia Naukowa.

Jassem, Wiktor (1954 etc) Fonetyka Języka Angielskiego (English Phonetics).Warsaw: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe.

Jassem, Wiktor (1962 etc) Podręcznik Wymowy Angielskiej (A Handbook of English Pronunciation). Warsaw: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe.

Jassem, Wiktor (1983, 1987) The Phonology of Modern English. Warsaw: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe.

Jassem, Wiktor (1995) Exercises in English Pronunciation.Warsaw: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe.

Windsor Lewis, J. (1992) Review of The Phonology of Modern English pp 73-77. Volume 22, Numbers 1 & 2, June-December, of the Journal of the International Phonetic Association. (Included in the Reviews section of this website.)