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Wilhelm Doegen

Date of
March 17, 1877, in Berlin
Date of
November 3, 1967

Wilhelm Doegen was born in Berlin. He studied economics, law, history, languages, and phonetics at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin (today Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), and in Oxford with the linguist and philologist Henry Sweet. After travels in France and England and a voluntary year in the military, he started teaching at secondary schools in Berlin in 1905. Focusing more and more on phonetics and prosody, Doegen published teaching materials for language learning and pronunciation. In 1909, he invented a recording device, the Doegen-Lautapparat, that earned him public recognition at the World’s Fair in Brussels the year after. It was in the same period that he conducted his first speech recordings.

During World War I, Doegen was part of a phonographic commission founded in 1915, the Königlich Preußische Phonographische Kommission. Under the supervision of Carl Stumpf, the commission visited prisoner-of-war camps and recorded more than a thousand speech samples and songs of the prisoners. When the commission was dissolved in 1920, its wax cylinders became part of the Phonogramm-Archiv. For the shellac records, a new sound department was founded at the Prussian State Library, and Doegen became its head. In the subsequent years, he extended the department’s collection, adding, among others, his recordings of German dialects based on Wenker sentences, a collection of voice portraits of famous people to complement Ludwig Darmstaedter’s set of autographs, and recordings of the voices of criminals. The sound department later became the Lautarchiv (“sound archive”) in Berlin.

Doegen was suspended from his position in 1930, suspected of having sold records for personal enrichment. Although he was later exonerated, his reputation was severely damaged, and he had to retire in 1933. After World War II, he returned to the Lautarchiv, now affiliated with the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität and renamed Institut für Lautforschung (“institute for sound research”). He remained a professor of English language and literature until 1951.

Manuscripts, photographs, letters, and recordings associated with Wilhelm Doegen can be found at the Lautarchiv, the German Historical Museum, and the German Federal Archives


More recordings conducted by Wilhelm Doegen can be found online:





Key Publications:






Compiled by HE | Picture: © Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin

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