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R.C. Russell Soundex Index - Full Text Description from the Original Patent

Text of the Original Patent for Soundex by Robert C. Russell


On October 25, 1917, Robert Russell filed his patent application for the Soundex system, a phonetic algorithm for indexing names by the way they sound instead of the way they are spelled. This unique index system received U.S. Patent 1,261,167 on April 2, 1918 and is still in popular use today.

To all whom it may concern:

"Be it known that I, Robert C. Russell, a citizen of the United States, and resident of Pittsburgh, in the county of Allegheny and State of Pennsylvania, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Indexes; and I do hereby declare the following to be a full, clear, and exact description of the invention, such as will enable others skilled in the art to which it appertains to make and use the same.

This invention relates to improvements in indexes which shall be applicable either to the "card" or "book" type -- one object of the invention being to provide an index wherein names are entered and grouped phonetically rather than according to the alphabetical construction of the names.

A further object is to provide an index in which names which do not have the same sound do not appear in the same group, thus shortening the search.

A further object is to provide an index in which each name or group of names having the same sound but differently spelled shall receive the same phonetic description and definite location.

With these and other objects in view, the invention consists in certain novel features as hereinafter set forth and pointed out in the claims.

In the accompanying drawings; Figure 1 is a view of a portion of a card index embodying my invention; Figure 2 is a view of one of the cards containing the phonetic key element arrangement, and Figs. 3, 4, and 5 are views of certain of the index cards or elements.

While my improved index may be arranged either in book form or as a card index, I have illustrated the same as the latter and will refer to cards on which the names are entered as "index elements" which terms are also intended to comprehend leaves of a book when the latter is employed instead of cards, and the table representing the phonetic arrangement, which may be printed upon cards of the set or in the books of the index, may be known as a "key element."

There are certain sounds which form the nucleus of the English language, and these sounds are inadequately represented merely by the letters of the alphabet, as one sound may sometimes be represented by more than one letter or combination of letters, and one letter or combination of letters may represent two or more sounds. Because of this, a great many names have two or more different spellings which in an alphabetical index, or an index which separates according to the sequence of their contained letters in the alphabet, necessitates their filing in widely separated places.

With the use of certain primary sounds and by grouping such sounds as may be represented by the same letters, I have devised a phonetic arrangement which is an important characteristic of my improved index, and with the use of which I am enabled to group names, not according to their spelling but in accordance with their sounds or phonetic values.

The phonetic arrangement which I employ comprises eight divisions, as follows:

First: The oral resonants represented by their alphabetical equivalents a, e, i, o, u and y and their combinations;

Second: The labials and labio-dentals, -- the former being represented by b p and sometimes f, and the latter being represented by v and sometimes f;

Third: The guttarals and the sibilants, -- the former being represented by g k q and sometimes x, and the latter being represented by c s z and sometimes x;

Fourth: The dental-mutes represented by t and d;

Fifth: The palatal-fricative represented by l;

Sixth: The labio-nasal represented by m;

Seventh: The dento or lingua-nasal represented by n;

Eighth: The dental-fricative represented by r.

The eight elements comprising the phonetic arrangement may be graphically represented as follows:

No. 1 -- a, e, i, o, u, y
No. 2 -- b, f, p, v
No. 3 -- c, g (discard gh), k, q, x, s (discard final s), z (discard final z)
No. 4 -- d, t
No. 5 -- l
No. 6 -- m
No. 7 -- n
No. 8 -- r

For convenience, the phonetic elements may be represented by one of the contained letters, preferably the first where there are more than one, or the several phonetic elements may be represented by different emblems, but I prefer to use numerals from 1 to 8 to identify said elements on the index cards.

In element 3, the diagraph "g h" is not considered representative of the element, as the same is usually silent, as in the name "Wright." Final "s" and "z" are disregarded, as usually the omission or addition of the final sibilant is immaterial in the pronunciation of a name as in the name "Myers."

Without exception, when two letters which represent the same element, or a repetition of the same letter, occur in a name, without being separated by a member of a different element, only the first is regarded. Thus the phonetic valuation of "Mack" is "M-a-c" and of "Ball," "B-a-l."

Element 1 (the vowels) is used only once in a name, regardless of how many times a vowel may appear in the name. Thus, the name "Carter," is phonetically represented by "C-a-r-t-r."

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