The first spoken intonation corpus (1909): a re-assessment of Daniel Jones's 'Intonation Curves'

Michael Ashby


In 1909 the UCL phonetician Daniel Jones (DJ) published a small volume entitled ‘Intonation Curves’, which was based on the exhaustive analysis of eight commercially available gramophone records of the day, covering English, French and German. The method was to listen repeatedly to the records, lifting the needle at numerous successive points and plotting the final pitch heard so as to trace continuous lines on a musical stave, along with the orthographic text and a detailed phonetic transcription. The result, an approximately 20-minute body of recordings with time-aligned representations on several levels, deserves recognition as an early spoken corpus. We have located and digitized copies of most of the discs used in the original study, re-creating the corpus and making possible a replication, though the noisy 110-year-old recordings present challenges in acoustic analysis. Evaluation of various pitch-trackers shows that DJ's auditory method matches or out-performs the most successful present-day algorithms. Plotting the modern fo determinations on a stave for comparison with DJ’s reveals that his detailed intonation curves are remarkably accurate. We review the significance of the work, and its relationship to the later development of formal models of intonation for the three languages.


 DOI: 10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-25

Cite as: Ashby, M. (2020) The first spoken intonation corpus (1909): a re-assessment of Daniel Jones's 'Intonation Curves'. Proc. 10th International Conference on Speech Prosody 2020, 121-125, DOI: 10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-25.


@inproceedings{Ashby2020,
  author={Michael Ashby},
  title={{The first spoken intonation corpus (1909): a re-assessment of Daniel Jones's 'Intonation Curves'}},
  year=2020,
  booktitle={Proc. 10th International Conference on Speech Prosody 2020},
  pages={121--125},
  doi={10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-25},
  url={http://dx.doi.org/10.21437/SpeechProsody.2020-25}
}