Roger Kingdon's Contributions to Phonetics

(This is a conflation and revision of items contributed to the  
Journal of the International Phonetic Association
in 1971 and 1984)

1. Roger Kingdon's phonetic interests were wide. His earliest publications in the field, contributions to the journal of the International Phonetic Association, then called Le Maître Phonétique, appeared in 1938 and 1939. They were several student's-section transcriptions of Spanish and three "Specimens" of the International Phonetic Alphabet's application to the representation of General South West English, the South Hams Dialect and East Devon speech. He was not a westcountry man by birth having been born on the 3rd of August 1891 in the borough of Greenwich and gone to the distinguished City of London School, an unusually non-boarding 'public' school. However, he had begun his working career in 1908 with the Western Morning News at Plymouth which became his home city in Britain.

2. For the first of his transcriptions of westcountry speech, wishing to distinguish three different kinds of r-sound, a fricative, a strong retroflex and a weak retroflex, he introduced a completely new symbol ɻ which was officially adopted into the IPA alphabet in 1973 and remains to this day as its official symbol for a retroflex approximant consonant. In 1912 he moved to Barcelona to teach English as a foreign language. In 1939 appeared his most important Maître Phonétique contribution 'Tonetic Stress Marks for English' (pp 60-64) which contained 35 lines of exemplificatory dialogue and "listed 60 possible stress-tone variants of the sentence I can't find one heralding a new era in English intonation studies.

3. During the 1914-18 war he enlisted in the Artists' Rifles and later was commissioned in the Royal Engineers. Between that war and the outbreak of the Spanish civil war he was back in Barcelona. In the session of 1936-37 he enrolled as a student at University College London Phonetics Department staying on for two further years when appointed to its teaching staff. During the 1939-45 war he was, at 48, too old for the armed forces but, enrolling in the British Council, was first posted to Romania. From there he was moved on to Cyprus and then to Asyet in upper Egypt where most of his time between 1941 and 1945 was spent. One outcome of this was an interesting specimen of Sa'idi Arabic which he furnished with indications of intonation (m.f.1945:5,6). Kingdon's long series of publications on English language teaching and phonetics was to include specimens of the Tabascan and Zapoteco languages of Mexico to which country also he was posted by the British Council in 1945. The specimen of the latter language was, like the Egyptian one, accompanied by intonations, making them probably unique among IPA specimens of non-toneme languages. Although making his home chiefly in Mexico City he also spent spells of a year or more at Montevideo, Bogotá and Santiago de Chile before retiring to Mexico in 1951. He wrote many articles for the journal English Language Teaching including the four of 1948-49 which extensively unveiled his highly original approach to EFL intonation teaching.

4. His work in the field of intonation has been vastly influential though one wonders how often those influenced by it at second hand have had any realisation how very much they have ultimately been in his debt. Full credit was certainly due to Harold Palmer for first making scholars fully aware that the pitches of speech are patterned into sequences having climaxes of interest that are (potentially) approached and receded from, climaxes for which he coined the (actually not very suitable even if widely accepted) expression "nucleus tone". Kingdon preferred the slightly different form "nuclear tone" (which thereafter universally superseded Palmer's version) and introduced "a considerable number of additions and modifications" to Palmer's distinctly flawed treatment of the subject.

5. The most fundamental of these was his recognition that the pre-nuclear syllables in the intonation unit need to be clearly differentiated into unstressed ones and ones that were stressed – often so much that they were minimally less prominent in the pitch pattern than the nucleus itself. He conveyed these distinctions and thus, for the first time ever, offered a really adequate (for EFL purposes at least) systemic iconic notation 'to give an unambiguous indication of tune'. No less a scholar than Kenneth Pike (in his Intonation of American English 1945:9) recognised the importance of this advance commenting that "its relating of stress to the first part of an intonation contour" was an "especially valuable characteristic" of Kingdon's analysis. The principle involved was so axiomatic in relation to virtually all later British work on intonation that it is nowadays, as with others of Kingdon's ideas which permeate subsequent British intonation studies, essentially taken for granted.

6. He also showed much better judgement than Palmer in his choice of tone symbols. He took as basis the IPA's rudimentary recommendations which had been derived from Sweet (Primer of Phonetics 1921) who had inherited them in turn from John Walker's The Melody of Speaking (1787). Palmer's had been very uneconomically over-pictorial: they had conveyed direction of pitch movement by angle and again by arrowhead placing. Moreover, most of them were needlessly large, extending the full depth of the line of print when symbolising movement between the high and low voice ranges. Kingdon's were elegantly unobtrusive. He sensibly rejected the IPA recommendation of a raised hyphen as a high-level-tone symbol in favour of its stress mark which is less conspicuous in continuous texts.

7. His fully mature analysis appeared first in summary form in three articles which appeared in 1948 in successive numbers of the British Council journal English Language Teaching. Probably the most important advance these demonstrated was the differential-height placing of the tone marks. Sweet (1906:70) had long before referred to such a possibility but he had never ventured to put the idea into practice. Also valuable was Kingdon's recognition that the most natural relationship between the stressed syllables in pre-nuclear position was as a series of downward steps: such a descending scale he specifically established as the conventional interpretation of such sequences.

8. In matters of analytical terminology Kingdon rejected Palmer's use of 'head' for the whole pre-nuclear segment, reserving that term for the first pre-nuclear accent. He introduced for the first time the now generally accepted, one might say indispensable, term for what preceded that accent: the 'prehead'. What followed it in the pre-nuclear segment he termed the 'body' of the unit. It was a minor departure from this of O'Connor & Arnold's Intonation of Colloquial English (1961), whose notation contained very little in the way of fundamental features not taken over from Kingdon (as they were very ready to acknowledge), which provided the latterly best known use of 'head' namely for the whole pre-nuclear segment from the first accent to the nucleus. Gimson (1962 etc) adhered to Kingdon's terminology but Crystal & Quirk in Systems of Prosodic and Paralinguistic Features in English (1964:69), having followed the O'Connor & Arnold change, found themselves obliged to adopt a new term (for what Kingdon had called 'head') the 'onset', thus confirming Kingdon's judgement that analysts needed such an expression.

9. It was in 1958 with his Groundwork of English Intonation that Kingdon finally fleshed out and provided recordings to illustrate the framework he had laid down. At the same time he published a supplementary volume (of 50,000 words) of varied intonationally transcribed texts English Intonation Practice. This contained conversational dialogues, anecdotes, proverbs, descriptions and verse including Shakespeare. But before that his methods had been widely adopted by various British and Continental phoneticians. At Leeds Peter MacCarthy had fully acknowledged adopting Kingdon's "complete set of marks with most of the terminology and conventions used by him in operating the system" for his English Converstion Reader (1956). At London where Kingdon's "many discoveries in the field of English intonation" had been handsomely acknowledged by Daniel Jones, his methods were taken up by Norman Scott and various others. Even the superficially different writings of Michael Halliday and David Brazil owed a very considerable debt to Kingdon's pioneering work. On the Continent his most enthusiastic followers included the Swiss scholar Maria Schubiger.

10. Even now, when so much valuable work has been built upon Kingdon's foundations, there are many matters in the field which have yet to be more adequately treated than they were in Kingdon's works. Gibbon in his Perspectives of Intonation Analysis (1976:38) quite reasonably queried the validity of the Kingdon term for pitch movements on the initial margins of stressed syllables 'homosyllabic preheads'. But which other writer has ever yet given any real attention to this phenomenon? The Halliday (Intonation 1970:132) recording contained an example (on the word 'Right') but his text did no more than indicate it as his Tone 5. All later twentieth-century British work on intonation, though with rarely adequate express acknowledgment (if even realisation) of the fact, owed far more to his basis than to any other source.

11. There are various places where what Kingdon referred to as 'divided fall-rise' most of us would now prefer to call 'fall-plus-rise'. That his notations left such types not discriminated between was no doubt one of the chief reasons why he was accused of failing to express the underlying structure of the English intonation system, the Pike (1945:9) charge, unfairly echoed later by Crystal (1969:38), which it should be borne in mind was based solely on Kingdon's very first short article on intonation in Le Maître Phonétique in 1939. Be that as it may, many people often seem to overlook the fact that the limited goal he set himself was that of providing pedagogical materials for the advanced learner of English as a foreign language. At any rate it so happened that Crystal (1969) contained 17 references to Kingdon whereas only a few of the several hundred other writers he acknowledged debts to were referred to as often. Possibly the chief other basis of the criticism of structure-display inadequacy was what Gibbon (1976:134) referred to as 'Kingdon's lack of interest in demarcating tunes'. At any rate, the present writer in Windsor Lewis (1977) cheerfully decided to leave such features as ambiguous in notation as they so frequently are in sound.

12. Kingdon's most popular book (much quoted by many scholars and remaining in print longer than any other of his works) was his very approachable Groundwork of English Stress published in 1958 which showed how excellently legible his tonetic stress marks were when used in lexicographical types of context. Wiktor Jassem in his review of it in the m.f. (1959:35) referred to it as "a goldmine of material ... highly practical and useful". In 1964 Kingdon contributed a brief article (pp 112-15) to the collection In Honour of Daniel Jones (edited by David Abercrombie et al.) which proposed certain reforms in the representation of vowels with the aim of providing official IPA symbols for the most neglected vowel areas. His last major publication was an unjustly neglected but admirable re-working of Palmer-&-Blandford's Grammar of Spoken English (1969). No doubt this would have had a more enthusiastic reception if he had not again used in it that 'broadest' form of IPA transcription for English which Daniel Jones had originated and advocated for general EFL use but never accorded the ultimate recognition of employment in (reprints of) his many influential works. By 1970 it had been abandoned by almost everybody despite its excellent advantages. Every example in the book was given in both phonetic and tonetic transcription. It exhibited his 'tonetic stress marks' in a thoroughly pedagogically effective system of great clarity and learnability.

13. From the mid sixties to the early seventies Kingdon did much lexicographical work. Initially he contributed (anonymously) the pronunciations of all its 24,000 entries to the 1965 edition of Michael West's International Reader's Dictionary. After that he worked a good deal on the early drafts of the long-gestated Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. In 1973 he was honoured by his fellow members of the International Phonetic Association by election to its governing Council.

14. He was active as a tutor on the University of London Summer Schools on English until at the age of 78 he agreed to acknowledge the heart weakness to which he finally succumbed at the age of 92 on the 21st of May 1984. He had remained remarkably active for one who had come out of the 1914-18 war with a pensionable lung condition. His sight had weakened in his last years but his hearing remained good to the end and he never lost his enthusiasm for observing all forms of speech with his characteristic great good humour.