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The history of phonetic sciences

Special Session 8
organsied by Michael Ashby, Rüdiger Hoffmann & Jürgen Trouvain
  • For the first time, ICPhS is revisiting the venue of a previous meeting. The return of the twentieth ICPhS to Prague, which hosted the sixth meeting in 1967, offers a unique opportunity for historical reflection—not only on the history of the phonetic sciences, but on the nature and purpose of scientific conferences, currently an active field in the history of science (
  • The HSCR SIG was launched over ten years ago amid great interest at ICPhS and its subsequent specialist workshops have since generally been organised as satellites of Interspeech conferences. But the time has come to survey the development of the field, remind the wider phonetics research and teaching community of the relevance of work in history, and to recruit new adherents.
  • Established practitioners in the historical field will benefit from presenting their specialism to a wider audience. ICPhS has the broadest remit, and the most international and most diverse attendance of any major conference on the phonetic sciences.


There is a wide interest in the history of linguistic science generally, as evidenced by the existence of numerous national and international societies, regular conferences and workshops, and the publication of at least two prestigious peer-reviewed journals. The history of phonetic science finds a place in this activity, but also needs a platform in the mainstream of phonetics teaching and research if its relevance is to be properly established.
Six papers on the history of phonetic science were organised into two well-attended special sessions at the 2011 ICPhS in Hong Kong, and the ensuing discussion led to the formation of the HSCR (History of Speech Communication Research) SIG, supported by ISCA (International Speech Communication Association) and IPA (International Phonetic Association). With the help of the SIG five workshops have since been organised (2015 in Dresden, 2017 in Helsinki, 2019 in Vienna, 2021 in Prague, 2022 in Porto). The number of papers at these workshops has ranged between 9 and 18, and the proceedings have been published in book form by TUD Press, as well as being added to the ISCA Archive. These workshops provide evidence of lively ongoing research into historical topics in the phonetic sciences, and a meeting in Budapest is already planned for 2024.
A group of historically-themed papers formed a regular oral session at ICPhS in Melbourne in 2019, and no doubt at least one such similar session could be anticipated in Prague. But there are strong arguments for organising a special session, since the additional allowance of 30 minutes for discussion provides the crucial opportunity to report on the activities of the SIG, invite comments and criticisms, and attract more colleagues to historical topics—as listeners but maybe also as authors.
Too often, the history of scientific disciplines is regarded as an antiquarian interest, pursued mainly by scholars in their retirement. By having a special session, we could emphasize that historical topics are of current concern to all researchers in our disciplines. For instance, matters of archiving (particularly digital archiving) are core issues for research data management in general; historical film and audio material can be an excellent source in university teaching; the proper understanding and analysis of historical instruments and results obtained with them can lead to a deeper understanding of (long-standing) research questions.



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