Elizabeth T. Uldall: Innovations in Phonetic Method and Theory

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Abstract / Description of output

Elizabeth Theodora ‘Betsy’ Uldall (1913-2004) was a pioneering phonetician highly respected for having a keen ear for the subtleties of speech production and a great insight into the articulatory correlates of speech sounds. An American, well-travelled due to her work with the British Council during and after the war, she trained with Daniel Jones at University College London and then spent most of her career in phonetics at the University of Edinburgh (Abercrombie 1984). Her research covered both segmental and suprasegmental phonetics. She was perhaps best known for her work on intonation and speech rhythm, being one of the first to do empirical work on the stress-timing hypothesis and was influential in showing that intuitions of perceptual isochrony do not match the physical facts. But she also is remembered by her contemporaries as revolutionizing their own thinking about the phonetic description of vowels and consonants. Many of these contemporaries and students (e.g., Bill Hardcastle, John Esling, John Laver, Suzanne Romaine) are among the most influential phoneticians and linguists of the late 20th century. Many of the high quality speech recordings she made between the 1940s and 1960s have been digitally archived and are still used in contemporary research (e.g., Kirby and Hall-Lew 2015). Although she is fairly well known in phonetics, sociolinguists remain largely unaware of her prescient paper from 1960, ‘Attitudinal Meanings Conveyed by Intonational Contours’. The paper presents an analysis of listener attitudes towards a set of syntactically contrastive spoken sentences, highly controlled for lexical stress and syllabicity, that were artificially synthesized with sixteen different intonational contours. Listeners then rated each sentence according to ten different seven-point semantic differential scales, e.g. sincere/insincere, deferential/arrogant. In effect, Uldall (1960) represents an incredibly early sociophonetic perception study, done two decades before the term ‘sociophonetics’ would even be coined, and done in the ‘Matched Guise’ paradigm that in sociolinguistics is nearly categorically attributed to Wallace Lambert and colleagues (1960) in their work on attitudes towards Canadian French versus Canadian English. The particular innovation of Uldall (1960) to use acoustically synthesized stimuli rather than verbally manipulated stimuli is one that is much more often associated with research in the 21st century (e.g., Fridland, Bartlett & Kreuz 2004; Plichta & Preston 2005).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sept 2019
EventHenry Sweet Society of the History of Linguistic Ideas: Annual Colloquium - Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Sept 20197 Sept 2019


ConferenceHenry Sweet Society of the History of Linguistic Ideas
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • phonetics
  • history of linguistics
  • biography
  • Edinburgh
  • history of ideas


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