John Christopher Wells (born 11 March 1939) is a British
phonetician Phonetics is a branch of linguistics that studies how humans produce and perceive sounds, or in the case of sign languages, the equivalent aspects of sign. Linguists who specialize in studying the physical properties of speech are phoneticians. ...
and Esperantist. Wells is a professor
emeritus ''Emeritus'' (; female: ''emerita'') is an adjective used to designate a retired chair, professor, pastor, bishop, pope, director, president, prime minister, rabbi, emperor, or other person who has been "permitted to retain as an honorary title ...
University College London , mottoeng = Let all come who by merit deserve the most reward , established = , type = Public research university , endowment = £143 million (2020) , budget = ...
, where until his retirement in 2006 he held the departmental chair in phonetics.


Wells earned his
bachelor's degree A bachelor's degree (from Middle Latin ''baccalaureus'') or baccalaureate (from Modern Latin ''baccalaureatus'') is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by colleges and universities upon completion of a course of study lasting three to six ...
Trinity College, Cambridge Trinity College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge. Founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII, Trinity is one of the largest Cambridge colleges, with the largest financial endowment of any college at either Cambridge or Oxford ...
and his master's degree and his PhD at the
University of London The University of London (UoL; abbreviated as Lond or more rarely Londin in post-nominals) is a federal public research university located in London, England, United Kingdom. The university was established by royal charter in 1836 as a degree- ...
. Wells is known for his book and cassette ''Accents of English'', the book and CD ''The Sounds of the IPA'', ''Lingvistikaj Aspektoj de Esperanto'', and the ''Longman Pronunciation Dictionary''. He is the author of the most widely used English-Esperanto dictionary. Until his retirement, Wells directed a two-week summer course in phonetics for
University College London , mottoeng = Let all come who by merit deserve the most reward , established = , type = Public research university , endowment = £143 million (2020) , budget = ...
, focusing on practical and theoretical phonetics, as well as aspects of teaching phonetics. The course ends with written and oral examinations, for which the ''IPA Certificate of Proficiency in the Phonetics of English'' is awarded. From 2003 to 2007 he was president of the International Phonetic Association. He is also a member of the six-man Academic Advisory Committee at Linguaphone. Wells has long been a pioneer of new technology. He is the inventor of the
X-SAMPA The Extended Speech Assessment Methods Phonetic Alphabet (X-SAMPA) is a variant of SAMPA developed in 1995 by John C. Wells, professor of phonetics at University College London. It is designed to unify the individual language SAMPA alphabets, an ...
ASCII phonetic alphabet for use in
digital computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed to carry out sequences of arithmetic or logical operations (computation) automatically. Modern digital electronic computers can perform generic sets of operations known as programs. These prog ...
s that could not handle IPA symbols. He learned HTML during the mid-1990s, and he created a Web page that compiled media references to
Estuary English Estuary English is an English accent associated with the area along the River Thames and its estuary, including London. Phonetician John C. Wells proposed a definition of Estuary English as "Standard English spoken with the accent of the sou ...
, although he was sceptical of the concept. After retirement, Wells ran a regular blog on phonetic topics from March 2006 to April 2013. He announced the end of his blog on 22 April 2013 saying, "if I have nothing new to say, then the best plan is to stop talking."

Work on accents of English

A considerable part of Wells's research focuses on the phonetic description of varieties of English. In 1982, Cambridge University Press published his three volumes of ''Accents of English'' that described accents all over the English-speaking world in phonetic terminology. This applied consistent terminology to accents that had previously been analysed in isolation. ''Accents of English'' defined the concept of ''lexical sets,'' a concept in wide usage. A lexical set is a set of words (named with a designated element) that share a special characteristic. For example, words belonging to lexical set BATH have the phoneme in the United States and phoneme in
Received Pronunciation Received Pronunciation (RP) is the accent traditionally regarded as the standard and most prestigious form of spoken British English. For over a century, there has been argument over such questions as the definition of RP, whether it is geog ...
. In addition, Wells is acknowledged as the source of the term '' rhotic'' to describe accents where the letter r in spelling is always pronounced phonetically. Before writing ''Accents of English'', Wells had written a very critical review of the ''Linguistic Atlas of England'', which was the principal output of the
Survey of English Dialects The Survey of English Dialects was undertaken between 1950 and 1961 under the direction of Professor Harold Orton of the English department of the University of Leeds. It aimed to collect the full range of speech in England and Wales before loca ...
. He argued that the methodology was outdated, that the sample was not representative of the population and that it was not possible to "discover with any certainty the synchronic vowel-system in each of the localities investigated". KM Petyt noted in his review of ''Accents of English'' that Wells had made abundant use of the data from the Survey of English Dialects in some sections of the work whilst criticising the survey in other parts of the same work.

''Longman Pronunciation Dictionary''

Wells was appointed by
Longman Longman, also known as Pearson Longman, is a publishing company founded in London, England, in 1724 and is owned by Pearson PLC. Since 1968, Longman has been used primarily as an imprint by Pearson's Schools business. The Longman brand is also ...
to write its pronunciation dictionary, the first edition of which was published in 1990. There had not been a pronunciation dictionary published in the United Kingdom since 1977, when Alfred C. Gimson published his last (the 14th) edition of ''English Pronouncing Dictionary''. The book by Wells had a much greater scope, including American pronunciations as well as RP pronunciations and including non-RP pronunciations widespread in Great Britain (such as use of a short vowel in the words ''bath, chance, last'', etc. and of a long vowel in ''book, look'', etc.). His book also included transcriptions of foreign words in their native languages and local pronunciations of place names in the English-speaking world.


Wells was the president of the World Esperanto Association (UEA) from 1989 to 1995. He has previously been the president of the Esperanto Association of Britain and of the Esperanto Academy.

Work for spelling reform

Wells was president of the Spelling Society, which advocates spelling reform, from 2003 to 2013. He was criticised in a speech by
David Cameron David William Donald Cameron (born 9 October 1966) is a British former politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2010 to 2016 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 2005 to 2016. He previously served as Leader o ...
for advocating tolerance of text spelling.

Personal life

His father was originally from South Africa, and his mother was English; he has two younger brothers. Wells grew up in Up Holland, Lancashire, born to the vicar of the parish, Philip Wells. He has commented on the accent of the area and how it contrasted with the
Received Pronunciation Received Pronunciation (RP) is the accent traditionally regarded as the standard and most prestigious form of spoken British English. For over a century, there has been argument over such questions as the definition of RP, whether it is geog ...
that was spoken in his home in his book ''Accents of English; vol. 2: the British Isles''. He attended
St John's School, Leatherhead Seek those things which are above , established = , closed = , type = Public SchoolIndependent school Co-educational day, weekly and flexi boarding , religious_affiliation = Church of England , ...
, studied languages and taught himself
Gregg shorthand Gregg shorthand is a form of shorthand that was invented by John Robert Gregg in 1888. Like cursive longhand, it is completely based on elliptical figures and lines that bisect them. Gregg shorthand is the most popular form of pen stenography in ...
. Having learned Welsh, he was interviewed in Welsh on radio; according to his CV, he has a reasonable knowledge of ten languages. He was apparently approached by the Home Office to work on speaker identification but turned down the offer as it was still considered unacceptable to be gay at the time, and he feared that the security check would make his sexual orientation public. In September 2006 he signed a
civil partnership A civil union (also known as a civil partnership) is a legally recognized arrangement similar to marriage, created primarily as a means to provide recognition in law for same-sex couples. Civil unions grant some or all of the rights of marriag ...
with Gabriel Parsons, a native of
Montserrat Montserrat ( ) is a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean. It is part of the Leeward Islands, the northern portion of the Lesser Antilles chain of the West Indies. Montserrat is about long and wide, with roughly of coastline. It is ...
and his partner since 1968.


Wells is a member of London Gay Men's Chorus and was featured in their ''
It Gets Better It or IT may refer to: * It (pronoun), in English * Information technology Arts and media Film and television * ''It'' (1927 film), a film starring Clara Bow * '' It! The Terror from Beyond Space'', a 1958 science fiction film * ''It!'' (1967 ...
'' video. He is also a player of the melodeon and has uploaded videos of his playing to YouTube.



* 1962 – ' 'A specimen of British English'' In: ''Maître Phonétique'' Nr. 117, S. 2–5. * 1967 – ''. '' 'Specimen. Jamaican Creole'' In: ''Maître Phonétique'', Nr. 127 S. 5. * 1968 – ''Nonprevocalic intrusive r in urban Hampshire''. IN: ''Progress Report'', UCL Phonetics Laboratory, S. 56–57 * 1970 – ''Local accents in England and Wales''. In: ''J.Ling.'', Nr. 6, S. 231–252. * 1979 – ''Final voicing and vowel length in Welsh''. In: ''Phonetica'. 36.4–5, S. 344–360. * 1980 – ''The brogue that isn't''. In: ''JIPA'' vol. 10 (1980), S. 74–79. Can be read on-line. * 1985 – ''English accents in England''. In: P. Trudgill (Hrsg.): ''Language in the British Isles''. Cambridge University Press. 55–69. * 1985 – ''English pronunciation and its dictionary representation''. In: R. Ilson: (Hrsg.): ''Dictionaries, lexicography and language learning''. Oxford: Pergamon. * 1994 – ''The Cockneyfication of RP?''. In: G. Melchers u.a. (Hrsg.): ''Nonstandard Varieties of Language''. Papers from the Stockholm Symposium 11–13 April 1991. 198–205. Stockholm Studies in English LXXXIV. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International. * 1995 – ''New syllabic consonants in English''. In: J. Windsor Lewis (Hrsg.): ''Studies in General and English Phonetics. Essays in honour of Prof. J.D. O'Connor''. London: Routledge. . * 1995 – ''Age grading in English pronunciation preferences''. In: ''Proceedings of ICPhS 95'', Stockholm, vol. 3:696–699. * 1996 – ''Why phonetic transcription is important''. In: ''Malsori'' (Journal of the Phonetic Society of Korea) 31–32, S. 239–242. * 1997 – ''What's happening to Received Pronunciation?''. In: ''English Phonetics'' (English Phonetic Society of Japan), 1, S. 13–23. * 1997 – ''Our changing pronunciation''. In: ''Transactions of the Yorkshire Dialect Society'' xix, S. 42–48 * 1997 – ''One of three named "main technical authors" for Part IV, Spoken language reference materials''. In: D. Gibbon u.a. (Hrsg.): ''Handbook of Standards and Resources for Spoken Language Systems''. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1997. * 1997 – ''Whatever happened to Received Pronunciation?'' In: Medina & Soto (Hrsg): ''II Jornadas de Estudios Ingleses'', Universidad de Jaén, Spain, S. 19–28. * 1997 – ''Is RP turning into Cockney?''. In: M. P. Dvorzhetska, A. A. Kalita (Hrsg.): ''Studies in Communicative Phonetics and Foreign Language Teaching Methodology''. Kyiv State Linguistic University, Ukraine, S. 10–15. * 1999 – ''Which pronunciation do you prefer?''. In: ''IATEFL'' Bd. 149, June–July 1999, "The Changing Language", S. 10–11. * 1999 – ''Pronunciation preferences in British English. A new survey''. In: ''Proc. of the 14th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences'', San Francisco, 1999. * 2000 – ''British English pronunciation preferences. A changing scene''. In: ''Journal of the International Phonetic Association'' (1999) 29 (1), S. 33–50. * 2000 – ''Overcoming phonetic interference''. In: ''English Phonetics'' (Journal of the English Phonetic Society of Japan), Nr. 3, S. 9–21. * 2001 – ''Orthographic diacritics''. In: ''Language Problems and Language Planning'' 24.3. * 2002 – ''John Wells''. In: K. Brown, V. Law (Hrsg.): ''Linguistics in Britain. Personal histories''. Publications of the Philological Society, 36. Oxford: Blackwell. * 2002 – ''Accents in Britain today''. In: Ewa Waniek-Klimczak, Patrick J. Melia (Hrsg.): ''Accents and Speech in Teaching English Phonetics and Phonology''. Lang, Frankfurt/M. 2002 003 , S. 9–17. * 2003 – ''Phonetic research by written questionnaire''. In: M. J. Solé, u.a. (Hrsg.): ''Proc. 15th Int. Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Barcelona'', R.4.7:4 * 2003 – ''Phonetic symbols in word processing and on the web''. In: M. J. Solé u.a. (Hrsg..): ''Proc. 15th Int. Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Barcelona'', S.2.8:6


* 1962 
''A study of the formants of the pure vowels of British English''.
Unpublished MA thesis, University of London. * 1971 – ''Practical Phonetics''. London: Pitman. (with G. Colson) * 1973 – ''Jamaican pronunciation in London''. Publications of the Philological Society xxv. Oxford: Blackwell. . (Revised version of his PhD dissertation, 1971.) * 1990 – ''Longman Pronunciation Dictionary''. Longman. (ESU Duke of Edinburgh's Prize.) * 1993 – ''Hutchinson Dictionary of Difficult Words''. Edited by John Ayto. Oxford: Helicon. * 1994 – ''Longman Interactive English Dictionary''. CD-ROM, incorporating a spoken version of the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. ACT Multimedia/ Harlow: Longman, .


* * Vol. 1: an Introduction; vol. 2: the British Isles; vol. 3: Beyond the British Isles * * * * Wells, J. C. (2014). ''Sounds Interesting: Observations on English and General Phonetics''. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. * Wells, J. C. (2016). ''Sounds Fascinating: Further Observations on English Phonetics and Phonology''. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


External links

detailing academic works, professional experiences, and personal history.
John C. Wells's phonetic blog
published regularly since 2006, and discontinued as of April 2013. Archives accessible at the sidebar. Pre-2009 blogs ar

* . {{DEFAULTSORT:Wells, John C. Akademio de Esperanto members English Esperantists Presidents of the Universal Esperanto Association 1939 births Living people Linguists from the United Kingdom Phoneticians Academics of University College London LGBT writers from England British gay writers Alumni of Trinity College, Cambridge Alumni of the University of London LGBT scientists from the United Kingdom English male writers People educated at St John's School, Leatherhead People from Bootle LGBT academics