This is a slightly amended version of the article of this name published and copyright by Cambridge University Press. It appeared in the
Journal of the International Phonetic Association
Volume 44 Number 1 of April 2014

JWL and ASH 1974

JWL with ASH 1974


The history is outlined of the development during the first half of the twentieth century, from the work of H. E. Palmer and A. S. Hornby, of a highly innovative type of dictionary designed in the first place for non-native-speaking students of English. Its focus was on various phonetic and grammatical topics previously very little investigated. It notably remedied deficiencies in the area of the description of the language with the rhythmical character of units longer than the single word, gathering data not available in grammars and dictionaries of pronunciation. Other aspects of the phonetic contents of these dictionaries are also discussed including the beginnings of the provision of spoken illustrative sound files.

1. Only relatively recently has the term ADVANCED LEARNER'S DICTIONARY acquired the special sense of 'a specific genre especially characterised by its providing phonetic and grammatical information which ordinary dictionaries do not include'. Hereafter abbreviated to ALD, it was adopted in 1952 by the late Albert Sidney Hornby (1898-1978) and his publishers the Oxford University Press in order to distinguish what they had previously called simply A Learner's Dictionary of Current English from lower-level dictionaries which Hornby had also edited. The ALD had in the very first place been published in 1942 in Tokyo under the title Idiomatic and Syntactic English Dictionary. It had been compiled in Japan in the years 1937 to 1940 by Hornby, a Chester Grammar School alumnus, who after naval service graduated in English Literature at UCL (University College London), with the collaboration of two fellow teachers Edward Gatenby and Harold Wakefield. The most innovative and distinctive content of this first ALD, as Hornby always freely acknowledged, owed a very great deal to the influence of Harold E. Palmer (1877-1949).

2. Palmer was one of the most outstanding and highly prolific British writers on phonetics, grammar and language teaching in the first half of the twentieth century. He was an early contributor to the m.f. (Le Maître Phonétique), the forerunner of this Journal, from 1910 and for some years from 1915 was a Lecturer in Spoken English on the staff of Daniel Jones's UCL Department of Phonetics. Among his numerous phonetics-concerned publications were a unique Grammar of Spoken English (1924), his brief book English Intonation (1922) (a radical new analysis which, despite its serious imperfections, completely re-orientated British studies in that field) and A Dictionary of English Pronunciations with American Variants (1926). This pioneering work, 436 pages long, was compiled with two collaborators J. Victor Martin and F. G. Blandford. Its restricted vocabulary of under 10,000 entries gave its American pronunciations in often sparsely filled second columns of notable "variants" from the British usages.

3. Palmer left Jones's Department in early 1922 to move for thirteen years to Tokyo where within a year he'd been invited to set up a new 'Institute for Research in English Teaching'. In Japan he came to know and mentor Hornby who became engrossed entirely in linguistic studies. When Palmer returned to England Hornby succeeded him as the Institute's Director. Their researches had led them to identify numbers of matters previously very inadequately treated for the requirements of the advanced non-mother-tongue student of English.

4. Many of these matters figured in Palmer's 300-page book A Grammar of English Words published in 1938. The book's title page summarised its contents as "One thousand English words and their pronunciations, together with information concerning the several meanings of each word, its inflections and derivatives, and the collocations and phrases into which it enters."  He went on to emphasise its ''richness and abundance of examples'' and to provide explanatory introductions to its main features beginning with 'Special Grammatical Categories' and adding considerations of noun countability, of verb-patterns (providing information "given in no other reference-book or textbook") of adverbial particles and of twenty-four particularly important anomalous finite verb forms. These last were words with especially complex phonetic and distributional characteristics. He pointed out that, unlike other reference works, his book devoted a great deal of attention to "collocations'' (successions of "two or more words that may best be learnt as if ... a single word") and what he called "phrases" by which he meant "conversational formulas, sayings, proverbs, etc."

5. All entries included transcriptions of their headwords in conformity with the set of IPA symbols employed in the 1937 fourth edition of Daniel Jones's English Pronouncing Dictionary. Palmer added at p.x that "In many cases the pronunciation of the collocation ... is also given". This turned out to be more noteworthy as an ideal than for its extensive fulfilment in this book but it was nevertheless a significant pointer to the direction in which the ALD would develop later. Evidently Palmer was not inclined himself to undertake the daunting task of the production of a work which went beyond these thousand words he'd selected for special treatment. A dictionary which sought to provide the same remarkable fullness of treatment for all the words it included was an obviously desirable further step. The necessary intensive and laborious work this demanded was embarked upon by Hornby and his colleagues two years or so after Palmer had left the Institute. They completed that very first ALD in 1940 but, owing to the effects of World War II, it was not published even in Japan until 1942 and did not become available elsewhere until, four years later, it was re-issued "reprinted photographically" by the Oxford University Press. 

6. This ALD1 contained full phonemic transcriptions of all its headwords along with verb inflections, contracted spellings and weakforms (to use the spelling I consider most appropriate for this term). In one respect only, it did not follow Jones's practice. Unlike Palmer, Hornby chose in this first ALD to show the incidence of stressed syllables in a manner not in line with the practice of the International Phonetic Association. He instead placed acute accents over the vowels (or first elements of diphthongs) of the primary stressed syllables of words and grave accents over the secondary ones. Thus better appeared as [bétə] and veneration as [vènəréiʃən]. Alternative pronunciations, including American variant ones, were supplied, though rather sparingly, as were American orthographic forms.

7. Hornby, on his repatriation to England in 1942, was engaged by the British Council first to teach for a period at the University of Tehran and then, from the end of the War, to join their London headquarters staff as a linguistic adviser. In that capacity he set up, and for its first three years edited, the journal English Language Teaching. In 1950 Hornby resigned from the Council to devote himself exclusively to writing various textbooks and courses. Ultimately he undertook relatively unaided a complete revision of the ALD itself so that in 1963 its second edition appeared, now entitled The Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English. This abandoned the superscript-diacritic stress markings in favour of IPA practice. Its rather few American pronunciations were shown, in a semi-British style, with lower rhoticity than in General American e.g. advertisement was [ˌadvəˈtaizmənt] and fertile [ˈfəːtil].

8. The great success of ALD2 meant that initial plans soon began to be laid for a third edition. Hornby was now into his latter sixties and for a while there were serious doubts about whether his health would permit him to work on it. During this time the present writer was approached by a representative of the OUP asking if I would be interested in editing the planned third edition. In fact my preference was to continue as much with teaching as with writing rather than being mainly deskbound. However, I let it be known that I should be interested in assisting the next editor by taking responsibility, regarding the new edition, for the whole of its phonetic content which element I was very keen to see augmented. Happily, in the event, Hornby's health so much improved that in time he settled to preparing the third edition of ALD. From his Willersey Cotswold country home he invited to join him three principal collaborators who were to assist him while continuing their work at the University of Leeds. These were Anthony Cowie and Loreto Todd, both from the School of English, and the present writer, from the Department of Phonetics.

9. In ALD3 new phonetic features were introduced of several kinds. Perhaps most fundamental of all was that, for the first time ever in a dictionary of anything like its dimensions, every headword was supplied with a GA (General American) as well as a GB (General British) pronunciation. It was now announced as containing "100,000 items with phonetics". The transcription was still entirely in symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet but the very unfamiliar symbol [ɒ] was replaced with the otherwise unused eminently legible letter [o] so as to cover GA /ɑ/ and GB /ɒ/ whilst at the same time conveniently corresponding with words' ordinary orthographies. Such a symbol choice did not coincide with IPA general-phonetics recommendations but was considered "defensible" as a "convenient diaphonemic" notation  by J. C. Wells in his review of Windsor Lewis 1973. It may be compared with the way that EFL and various other phonemic notations of General British pronunciation of the past half century have practically universally rejected the very unfamiliar IPA symbol [ɐ], which in IPA general-phonetic use is dedicated to representing a central vowel value between open and open-mid, in favour of retaining the symbol /ᴧ/ which by contrast in general-phonetic contexts serves to represent a fully back open-mid 'Cardinal' value.

10.By this time the Jones EPD had passed into the hands of A. C. Gimson, Jones's successor in the UCL Chair of Phonetics. He made no secret of his intention that its next edition should involve fundamental changes from the set of transcription symbols that Jones had used. In the event, they remained in it until 1977. The new ALD3 set of symbols were mainly those employed two years previously in my CPD (Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of British and American English). Aside from the use of /o/ already mentioned, it anticipated almost exactly the symbols Gimson came to adopt for the EPD in 1977 with one major difference namely the rejection of the length marks. These were to become redundant in EPD when none of them was any longer the sole component of the transcription distinguishing one phoneme from another. Gimson ultimately decided to retain them in the interests of continuity and as maximizing legibility. One very trivial ALD3 difference was the use of [ɑ] rather than [a] for the initial elements of the diphthongs which were to appear eventually in EPD as /aɪ/ and /aʊ/. Again as in my CPD, the ALD3 style of stress symbolisation adopted was 'tonetic' i.e. it used indicators that simultaneously represented the intonation appropriate for the lexical pronunciation of each word, e.g. /ə`gəʊ/ ago, /ˈӕkə`demɪk/ academic. This Kingdon-inspired style has been the one preferred by Cruttenden in his superb successive revisions of the classic work latterly known as Cruttenden's Gimson's Pronunciation of English. Advantages of this choice include avoidance of placing a secondary stress mark in the less favourable position for comfortable perceptibility at the foot of a word and facilitation of greater prominence to tonic syllables through the wider space occupied horizontally by their angled tonic-indicating mark. These two features were felt to provide advantages of legibility rather greater than that afforded by the IPA authorised primary and secondary stress marks. Gimson considered ALD3 as exhibiting "an eminently legible and unambiguous notation" (personal communication 1974).

11. Before the era of ALDs, dictionary phonetic transcriptions were almost solely segmental-cum-prosodic representations. No entries consisted of ordinary spellings accompanied with stress markings. The lexicographical work of Jones and Gimson offered almost no phonetic information other than at headwords. Suffixed forms like infective and motherless might or might not be accounted for within paragraphs under headwords but were not accorded their own individual transcriptions. Exceptionally, and to a very limited extent, variant stress patterns were shown by having hyphens (accompanied by stress marks) stand for the syllables of words in order to avoid repeating their segmental representations. The Wells LPD (Longman Pronunciation Dictionary) from its first edition in 1990 sought to extend its coverage of word combinations by including in ordinary spelling, with stress markings only, what it termed "a good selection of compounds and phrases". The 10,000 or so items included in this way, not given at their alphabetical positions but arranged in small miscellaneous groups after headwords, contained very few phrases and far fewer than the much greater coverage of combinations provided by ALDs. When Roach and colleagues took over the Jones EPD in 1997 they also introduced such miscellaneous groupings.

12. The increased phonetic content that was introduced into ALD3 was, aside from the American transcriptions, not chiefly in the form of segmental symbols but for the greater part as provisions of stress indications for the extremely large numbers of items for which hitherto ALD had provided no stressing coverage and on which information was in most cases absolutely nowhere else available — not even in the largest of dictionaries. This increase in phonetic information could be seen for example under the headword bank. ALD 2 had, using the "swung dash" to represent headword repetition, given e.g. ~clerk and ~holiday but ALD3 now consistently made clear the words' stress patterns by regularly placing the principal-stress mark before the element bearing tonic stress instead of doing so only occasionally. Thus these now became `~clerk and ~ `holiday. Such items and others like child `benefit and `child's play, `Christmas card and Christmas `day, `rice paper and silver `paper, market `garden and `market town, `polling day and working `day are examples of the very numerous stressings hardly predictable by those who had not absorbed them in the effortless unconscious fashion that living from childhood in an English-speaking community brings about.

13. Simple words, compound words and set phrases alike are all stress-unpredictable because of the many different conflicting forces drawing them this way and that. An account of these forces is the subject of the article 'Accentuation' which is Section 8.1 of the present website. By far the greatest number of these expressions have particular stressings that are customary at least in one part of the English-speaking world. Many words and combinations may even change their usual stress values over time. A classic example occurred when Henry Sweet in his New English Grammar in 1891 at §904 (page 291)  came to "consider the use of even stress in noun-compounds". He took as what he considered an "especially clear" example the stressing of "sponge-cake" which he described as having tonic stress on its latter element. This was no doubt a perfectly reasonable comment in his day. No edition of the OED has ever marked this word for stress, but it was quite clear by the latter twentieth century that its usual tonic stressing had universally moved to its first element. Such changes have occurred to many common expressions like `banknote, `countryside, `deckchair etc. Such items generally in time come to be written solid but they may also receive hyphenation or, despite change of stressing, remain most often represented as two separate words, as do compounds like `drinking water, `fountain pen, `pocket knife etc.

14. When it comes to the stressing of English phrases and sayings etc, for example, any EFL student may perfectly reasonably expect from our general use of potentially contrast-emphasizing words like own that they are very likely to receive tonic stressing. In fact, the tonic may or may not be on your in it's none of your business but in mind your own `business or stew in your own `juice the tonic stress has from no perceivable logical necessity only one usual place, that is not on own. Common expressions like the wrong end of the `stick, the boot's on the other `foot, the thin end of the `wedge, burning the candle at both `ends, turn over a new `leaf, eyes in the back of one's `head might also well suggest that their obviously contrast-embodying words should receive tonic stress when that's not the case. Nor can there be a rule that tonic stress should fall on the last content word as we can see if we consider such common expressions as a silver `spoon in her mouth, a `bee in his bonnet, makes your `blood boil, get on like a `house on fire, all `over the place, in `that case, at `any rate, or see how the `land lies. Again, the general embargo on re-accenting a repeated word just previously made prominent won't work with e.g. the ˈblind leading the `blind, ˈbusiness is `business, ˈboys ˈwill be `boys, an ˈeye for an `eye or let ˈbygones be `bygones etc.

[Compare additionally Oct 2015: put `that in your pipe and smoke it

15. In 1977 Gimson completed the 14th edition of the Jones EPD which embodied his final decision on a new set of transcription symbols. These were immediately adopted as the Longman house style by that most highly influential publisher in the EFL field. This lead was in a remarkably short time so nearly universally followed that an unprecedented harmony in choice of transcription became established in the British EFL world that has remained for the most part undisturbed for a generation or more. OUP  naturally opted to bring the ALD into line with the new style and in due course obtained Gimson's agreement to himself undertake the conversion of it in co-operation with his UCL colleague Susan Ramsaran. Their collaboration was to be cut short by Gimson's untimely death in 1985 but by the time of the appearance in 1989 of ALD4 the fullness of phonetic treatment had been excellently continued by Dr Ramsaran. Since her resignation from it, the work has been carried on as admirably as ever by her UCL colleague Mr Michael Ashby from 1995 to the present 2008 eighth edition.

16. To this day there still exist yet more opportunities for maximising of prosodic information in expanded new editions, particularly by further extending annotation of its illustrative sentences with intonations and by providing more alternative pronunciations for individual words - a development all the more feasible when access to the next ALD is ever  more likely to be chiefly electronic rather than via printed texts. This applies also to pronunciation dictionaries: both of the two chief ones are far too tightly packed for anyone's comfort with space-saving but grossly legibility-inimical presentation of their data. Another rather desirable future step would be the provision of intonation information at many lexical items such as the exclamation Sorry. Longer expressions are: If you ˈask `ˏme...  |  `Never say ˏdie.  |  ˈYoo ˈhoo.  | `There  ˏthere! `You `ˏsaid it.  |  You can  ˈsay `that again

17. The first of various emulations of the ALD model, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, appeared  in 1978 with Gordon Walsh as Pronunciation Editor. He introduced a slight adaptation of the new Gimson transcription using simple /i/ free of length-mark essentially to convey the weak value used in words like happy and radiate. Subsequently a corresponding simple /u/ became used in words like punctuate. Latterly the expression "Advanced Learner's", not adopted by the earlier emulations, has come to be perceived as generic and begun to be incorporated in the titles of works from other publishers including Cambridge University Press, who in 2003 re-titled their Cambridge International Dictionary of English of 1995 as the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, Collins, MacMillan and even Merriam-Webster.

18. During the final decade or so of last the century the availability of digital compact discs, and in the present era additional online facilities, meant that printed books could be supplemented by spoken illustrations as never before. These were without doubt a highly desirable development but their production has not been without problems. A disc associated with the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English appeared in 1993. Nowadays almost all ALDs are accompanied by extensive sets of recordings as are the two principal pronunciation dictionaries LPD and CEPD and even certain general dictionaries. It seems that the readings accompanying these have usually been recorded by native speakers of British and American English, respectively as appropriate, who have mainly been university linguistics students in the 18-35 age group. None of the recordings have ever been credited to named performers or accompanied by any biographical data. The phonetic sophistication and powers of concentration desirable to enable readers to perform precisely the phonetic transcriptions which they read has certainly not been invariably manifested.

19. The sound files, immensely useful though they are, will not at all make phonetic transcriptions superfluous. As students must in most cases soon realise, they will prove to be valuable as aids to detecting exactly what's been said by the speakers and also to remembering what was spoken. The benefits from visible transcriptions would still have considerable value even if all the spoken illustrations were completely faithful performances of the displayed recommended pronunciations. Even though simply saying clearly large numbers of isolate pronunciations may at first glance seem to be likely to be a relatively straightforward procedure that hardly calls for special skills or knowledge, various problems have arisen which have been due to inadequate phonetic awareness on the part of the speakers or the difficulties of supervising them fully.

20. Among various less than perfectly satisfactory efforts to be heard there are items which sound abnormal from misjudged attempts at clarity which overshoot the mark. For example a performer, though doubtless a native speaker of the accent being exemplified, may enunciate a final consonant so strongly that the result is foreign-sounding or ambiguous e.g. in one case Three Blind Mice was being uttered with such a strongly released final /d/ that it sounded rather like Three Blinder Mice. In another type of case the final /n/ in stone was uttered so strongly that a vocalic offglide was produced such as to make the performance suggestive of a native Italian speaker's imperfect effort. Occasionally one hears an initial voiced plosive lengthened with an unnatural effect. In one set of files we hear a clearly genuinely American speaker but one who has the low rhoticity of a GB speaker in contrast with what the transcription indicates. Another set of rhoticity discrepancies occurs where the American speakers have in general GA-type high rhoticity but make various doubtless unconscious elisions in words such as caterpillar, farmer, government, particular, surprise etc.

21. Among other problems one has noted is that some speakers stray from normal intonations appropriate for the reading aloud of lexical items. These require, of course, a high-to-low-fall on a tonic stressed syllable. All pre-tonic syllables will be upper level with any succeeding the first stepping downwards. Instead of normal lexical intonations some speakers may at times reveal their consciousness of using repeated items by employing e.g. pre-final intonations. Thus instead of `sponge cake we may hear two level steps ˈsponge ˈcake. This can unsuitably sound emotionally distant or airy as commonly used in the casual etc farewell intonation ˈBye ˈbye. It can also perhaps tend to make the tonicity less clear. Similarly, one speaker saying a sequence of sponge compounds avoided the lexical pre-final value on the first word of sponge pudding by according it low level pitch and on its second word also used a non-final high-to-mid drop in pitch from its first to second syllables.

22. These are almost all fairly trivial imperfections and only a small fraction of the items provided by the total sets of recordings. Really totally unacceptable versions are not frequent. A venial imperfection, not a mistake at all, occurs where a speaker says `blind side with a perfectly normal but brisk version of the second word which makes it indistinguishable from sight. Such examples may well not really sound at all unnatural but may still be undesirable in the circumstances. The non-phonetician usually has very little idea of what a great number of ambiguities occur in even perfectly non-casual speech because they so rarely cause native speakers problems since contexts and situations serve constantly to disambiguate spoken exchanges.

23. By the way, users of the free online versions available from publishers of some ALDs should be aware that, not unreasonably, their benefactors are inclined to omit a significant amount of matter that appears in the print versions. These omissions, without warning, for example in the OALD and the CALD, exclude the  information provided by the stress marking of many word combinations, phrases etc. In some cases matter is expanded upon in the online version from what's seen in a printed entry but, even so, the publishers' policy of not supplying stresses in online items means that much very desirable information is omitted.

24. In future it's obvious that the printed books, which are tending to be expanded into awkwardly hefty objects to operate with, will be little used by comparison with their electronic versions with their the great advantages of easy searchability, uncrowded setting out and pronunciation sound files. Non-encyclopedic ALDs will no doubt continue to develop but in the physical form of books their days seem to be likely to be numbered.


Cambridge International Dictionary of English. 1995. CUP.
Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. 2003. CUP.
Collins Cobuild English Dictionary 1987. London: Collins.
Jones, Daniel English Pronouncing Dictionary 1917 &c. London:Dent.
Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English 1978 etc London
Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners 2002.
Merriam-Webster Advanced Learner's English Dictionary 2008.
Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary 1948 etc. OUP.
Palmer, H. E. 1922. English Intonation. Cambridge UK: Heffer.
Palmer, H. E. 1924. A Grammar of Spoken English Cambridge: Heffer.
Palmer, H. E., J. V. Martin & F. G. Blandford. 1926. A Dictionary of English Pronunciations with American Variants. Cambridge UK:Heffer.
Palmer, H. E. 1938. A Grammar of English Words London: Longman.
Roach, Peter et al. 2011. Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary.    
Sweet, Henry. 1891. A New English Grammar. OUP.
Wells, J. C. 1973. Review of Windsor Lewis 1972 in JIPA.
Wells, J. C. 1990 etc. Longman Pronunciation Dictionary.
Windsor Lewis, J. 1972.  A Concise Pronouncing Dictionary of British and American English. OUP.