Phonozoic

Paleospectrophony


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4. Elocutionary Pitch Contours

4.1—Another format that lends itself well to paleospectrophony is the "musical" inscription of elocutionary pitch contours. In fact, this was the application I had in mind in August 2008 when I originally came up with the technique.

4.2—Here's a plate from my copy of the first edition of The Philosophy of the Human Voice by James Rush of Philadelphia (1827; see a complete facsimile via Google Books), showing an excerpt from Shakespeare's Othello:

Rush notes that he wasn't attempting to show duration here and that the shape of the marks was arbitrary, so there are some serious limits on what this inscription represents. Still, I believe the plates in this book are the oldest automatically "playable" representations of American speech. I've set the relative frequency range to roughly what he indicates and inserted a pause between lines.  

   

4.3—An even earlier example of this approach was the system of speech notation developed by Joshua Steele in An Essay Towards Establishing the Melody and Measure of Speech to be Expressed and Perpetuated by Peculiar Symbols (London: J. Almon, 1775).  Google Books has two scans [1, 2] of the 1779 edition, retitled Prosodia Rationalis, and the first edition of 1775 was reprinted in facsimile by the Scolar Press in 1969.

I haven't yet come up with a fully satisfactory way of translating Steele's notations of emphasis and duration. However, here's an eduction of the pitch contours exactly as they appear on the page:  . (Actually, I made a mistake; instead of line 2, I played line 3 twice in a row. But you get the idea.)

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Original content copyright © 2009, Patrick Feaster.