Militarism and Pacifism Among Phonemes

« previous post | next post »

A recent request from Steve Anderson led me to borrow from our library its copy of the Proceedings of the Third International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Held at the University of Ghent, 18-22 July 1938. (Why the scanned book isn't available from Google Books or from the Hathi Trust isn't clear to me…)

There are many curious and interesting features of this volume, such as the fact that most of the participants from Germany are cited in the List of Members as "Delegate of the German Government", e.g.

BACH, Prof. A., Drachenfelsstr., 1, Bonn a/Rhein, Germany. (Delegate of the German Government.)
FEYER, Miss Ursula, Eulerstr., 21, Berlin N. 20, Germany. (Delegate of the German Government.)
FISCHER, Prof. W., Englisches Seminar, Universität Giessen, Ludwigstr., 19, Germany. (Delegate of the German Government.)

I saw no analogous identification of scholars from other countries, though perhaps I missed a few.

Among other 1938-ish features of this volume, one of the papers that caught my eye was

Prof. C. M. Wise (Bâton Rouge): "Militarism and Pacifism Among Phonemes in American English":

Phonemes in American English are surprisingly like the nations of the earth : some are militaristic, some are pacific ; some are satisfied with what they have, some insist on having colonies ; some complain of over-population and invade other phonemic territory, the occupants of which either fight back, or flee into the territory of still other phonemes, where they in turn become invaders ; some, usually separated from neighbors, if not by mountains or oceans, at least by considerable phonemic space, remain quietly at home — the Switzerlands and the Scandinavian countries of the phonemic family of nations.

I may post some more nuggets from this volume later — that's all I have time for at the moment.

FWIW, web search tells us about many books by Claude Merton Wise, and quite a few articles, e.g. "Southern American Dialect", American Speech 1933; and "The Southern American diphthong [ai]", Southern Journal of Communication 1954. Also his grave site.

Update — the end of Prof. Wise's 1938 paper:

Attention has been called to the difficulty of saying which is the aggressor in the battle of phonemes. Perhaps, after all, there is no aggressor and no battle. Perhaps we have, instead, only fugitives — fugitive spellings like tender and wench concealing themselves in the company of tinder and winch, or fugitive sounds like ɔ escaping from the customary a-, aw-, and o-spellings and hiding among ar-spellings.


  1. Y said,

    July 13, 2019 @ 12:24 am

    This is not long before Weinreich's quote on dialect and language first saw print.

    I'm surprised to see the accent on Bâton Rouge. Is this just a scholarly affectation, or was that still generally practiced then?

  2. Bob Ladd said,

    July 13, 2019 @ 2:12 am

    I wondered about the accent on Bâton Rouge as well. Perhaps it simply looked normal to whoever did the typesetting, presumably somewhere in Belgium.

  3. Coby Lubliner said,

    July 13, 2019 @ 11:01 am

    I wonder why there is no Wikipedia entry for C. M. Wise.

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 13, 2019 @ 4:07 pm

    Since I can't just click through to a scanned version and answer my question, let me ask whether the proceedings of the Congress were primarily conducted in English even way back then? Or are the published proceedings either multilingual or (in the English edition) comprised largely of translations of papers originally delivered in some other tongue(s)? The internet tells me that the Universiteit Gent finally switched over from French to Dutch as its primary language of instruction about a decade before this Congress, as Flanders was slowly liberated from the oppression of the Francophone Yoke. But that obviously meant that you couldn't host much of an international event if you demanded all the visiting scholars present in Dutch. What sort of mix of the international "scholarly" languages of the day (by that point presumably mostly some mix of English/French/German, since alas even in Catholic countries not many scholars still published or lectured in Latin) you might have ended up with is a bit hard to guess at 80 years later (and likely would vary from discipline to discipline).

    [(myl) By a quick count, there are 72 papers, of which 19 are in English, 22 are in French, and 31 are in German.

    A final section of the proceedings documents "Entertainments and Social Functions", which is variously presented in English, French, Dutch, and German (depending on how the reprinted remarks were originally delivered), and ends this way:

    Thereupon Prof. FOUCHÉ toasted the Ladies, and further addresses were delivered by several members, a few of which spoke in their mother tongue, an item, very much enjoyed by the audience.


  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 13, 2019 @ 4:35 pm

    To myl's puzzlement about why the book has not been scanned and posted in full, surely the most parsimonious explanation is that anything published in 1938 should be conservatively assumed to still be protected by copyright in the U.S. until it's demonstrated to the contrary, and the potential online sources he mentions are both US-based and probably to some extent institutionally risk-averse. The likelihood of actually being sued for infringement given the nature of the specific work seems tolerably low, so I expect that anyone with a specific interest in making that specific work available to anyone with internet access might quite reasonably decide to run the risk (although, you know, check with UPenn's lawyers before posting it on a website that UPenn might be deemed to control), but the big players like hathi trust are presumably dealing with the issue at a higher level of generality. Separately, multi-author "proceedings" volumes like that are often an unprofitable pain-in-the-ass for people who are scrupulous about avoiding infringement, because whether there's one person/entity out there who currently controls the relevant rights to the whole thing or whether each individual article may currently have a different rightsholder (and indeed in PMA jurisdictions some articles might already be in the public domain while others remain under copyright) can be difficult to sort out, making the transaction costs of getting appropriate permissions (and/or definitively establishing that no permission is required) quite daunting.

  6. Bob Ladd said,

    July 13, 2019 @ 5:08 pm

    @ J W Brewer: My guess is that the languages of the 1938 ICPhS were English, French, and German. That was the case with my own first ICPhS in 1983 in Utrecht, and I *think* it was true of the 1979 one in Copenhagen. If I recall, the proportions of papers in the three languages in 1983 was something like 60 or 70% English, maybe 20 or 25% French and 5 or 10% German. The march of English as the default language for such events was artificially slowed by the fact that the 1987 Congress was in the Soviet Union (so Russian was added to the other three) and the 1991 one was in France (so French and English were official). Since then it has gone without saying that the conference is in English – *literally* gone without saying, at least recently.

  7. David Marjanović said,

    July 13, 2019 @ 6:15 pm

    let me ask whether the proceedings of the Congress were primarily conducted in English even way back then?

    There isn't much that proceeds at scientific conferences other than the presentations themselves. I've attended three that weren't entirely in English. The moderators just announced each talk in the language it was in and let the presenter speak. Many of those that didn't speak in English (including myself at one occasion) had their PowerPoint slides in English; of course that was hardly a concern in 1938. Other than that, any members of the audience who couldn't follow the presentation were simply out of luck.

  8. David Marjanović said,

    July 13, 2019 @ 6:17 pm

    I've attended three

    Four! Four scientific conferences that weren't entirely in English, out of the 30-odd I've been to (since 2004). Three accepted talks in French, one in German.

  9. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 13, 2019 @ 8:54 pm

    Although being a "Delegate" for the German Government of 1938 might be rather an awkward C.V. item in hindsight, it turns out that FEYER, Miss Ursula, managed to have a lengthy post-1945 scholarly career and lived until 1989. Here's an obit/tribute published in 1991 (in German) in Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung. Her 1947 "Hausa als Werkehrsprache" apparently remains enough of a standard, or at least useful, work on that language to be favorably cited in English-language scholarship published within the last few years.

  10. D.O. said,

    July 14, 2019 @ 3:17 am

    most of the participants from Germany are cited in the List of Members as "Delegate of the German Government"

    Am I wrong in assuming that this nice feature was to distinguish them from refugees from, you know, the German government.

  11. Terry Hunt said,

    July 14, 2019 @ 7:37 pm

    @ Coby Lubliner
    I wonder why there is no Wikipedia entry for C. M. Wise.

    Because you haven't written it yet. Seriously. Wikipedia's content is entirely written/edited by unpaid volunteers like you and me, and no one hands out assignments. If you think a subject is 'notable' (in the Wikipedia sense of "has had sufficient material published about it in independent, citable edited sources on which a referenced article can be based") you can either formally request an article and hope that someone else is motivated to write it (this happens, though not frequently), or you can start one yourself and be fairly sure that others will contribute.

    Wikipedia is almost certainly the World's most frequently consulted reference work, and it always annoys me when people knowledgeable about subject X complain that Wikipedia's article on X is deficient. If they really cared, they could improve it themselves (provided they'r willing to follow the established policies and procedures, which are not at all hard to learn).

  12. Terry Hunt said,

    July 14, 2019 @ 7:39 pm

    "they're", of course. My kingdom for a preview button.

  13. Andrew Usher said,

    July 15, 2019 @ 11:46 pm

    I assume 'Delegate for the German Government' just means their attendance was sponsored by the government; but taking official notice of this seems odd. If there's any reason the Nazis would have insisted upon it, I don't know it.

    Multilingualism at academic conferences may seem strange, but no more so than the existence of such conference themselves; I reckon their primary purpose is not simply to deliver the presentations (as that could be done in writing more easily, and with the advantage of translatability), so the fact that some of those in attendance won't understand some of the talks is not considered a fatal handicap.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo dot com

  14. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 18, 2019 @ 7:13 am

    Prof. Wise seems (now that we have the whole list in a subsequent post by myl) to have been one of only 3 US-based participants, but one of the other two does get his own wikibio and sounds an interesting fellow, although from the career highlights given therein you would not necessarily have expected him to end up hanging out with phoneticians in the Netherlands. (Alphabetizing him under E rather than P in the table of contents seems to have been another mysterious error, perhaps committed by the same person who stuck the accent into Baton Rouge.)

RSS feed for comments on this post