Recently in the Speech/Spoken Category

I was completely oblivious to the vocal fry/“creaky voice” phenomenon until today. A friend posted about it, and I did a quick search, and found several interesting articles on the subject.

Creaky Voice: Yet Another Example of Young Women's Linguistic Ingenuity
“If you want to see where the language is going, you find a young, urban woman.”
Creaky Voice: A New Feminine Voice Quality for Young Urban-Oriented Upwardly Mobile American Women?
“Previously, creaky voice was interpreted as a voice quality of masculinity or authority. Moreover, a [...] survey indicates that college-age Americans [...] perceive female creaky voice as hesitant, nonaggressive, and informal but also educated, urban-oriented, and upwardly mobile.”
Vocal fry: ‘creeping in’ or ‘still here’?
“these ‘low creaky vibrations’ have been common since forever.” (Also suggests that Mae West used this register.)
This American Life, episode 545, act 2
“Listeners have always complained about young women reporting on our show. They used to complain about reporters using the word like and about upspeak[...]. But we don't get many emails like that anymore. People who don't like listening to young women on the radio have moved on to vocal fry.”
Stanford linguist Penny Eckert did a preliminary study, and found that people under 40 found vocal fry authoritative, while people over 40 didn't. Ira Glass says “So if people are having a problem with these reporters on the radio, what it means is they're old.” Eckert replies: “[the media] want to talk about the crazy ways that young women are speaking [...], even though young men are doing it too. So it's a policing of young people, but I think most particularly young women.”
Naomi Wolf misses the point about ‘vocal fry’. It's just an excuse not to listen to women
“Vocal fry is not a problem. It is merely another excuse to dismiss, ignore and marginalise women's voices, both literally and figuratively. And it's just the latest in a long history of finding excuses not to listen to what women, especially young women, say.”

Daisy: 50 years of song synthesis

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I got curious about why HAL 9000 sings “Daisy” (actual song title: “Daisy Bell) in 2001.

It turns out that it's because Arthur C. Clarke saw a 1962 Bell Labs demo of an IBM 704 singing “Daisy”.

That wasn't the first electronic speech synthesis; the Voder was invented in the 1930s. But the Bell Labs demo may've been the first electronically generated singing.

I wonder what led the Bell people to pick that particular song. I especially wonder whether it's because Daisy's last name in the song is Bell.

YouTube has an audio recording of the demo, accompanied for some reason by a still image made to look like an old movie. The voice doesn't start until a minute in. It's pretty good speech synthesis; not as good as, say, Siri, or Google's synthesized voices, but not as much worse as I would've expected, given that it was fifty years ago.

Speaking of which: in response to the query “sing me a song,” Siri will recite the beginning of the chorus of “Daisy”—but won't actually sing it. So fifty years on, we still don't have singing computers in daily life. Another failure of living in the future, like jetpacks and aircars. I'll have to console myself by listening to the Dictionaraoke version of “Video Killed the Radio Star” again.

(Nitpicky number details: The YouTube video says the demo took place in 1961 (rather than 1962) and was on an IBM 7094 (rather than 704). I tend to believe the Bell Labs official website over a random YouTube video, but I don't know for sure. Also, Wikipedia says that the 7094 wasn't introduced until 1962; if that's true, then the video can't be right about both the year and the model number. But I haven't actually researched any of these numbers.)

Rum, hobbitses, and the Kirk

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A few weeks back, N introduced me to the catchy video remix "Captain Kirk is climbing a mountain; why is he climbing a mountain?"

It does a neat job of turning spoken intonation into quasi-melody (and adding music and video). As I wrote in an old column on intonation:

I'm fascinated by spoken-word recordings in which intonation almost provides a melody. There's a Scott Johnson recording which includes clips of someone saying, "Remember that guy, J-John somebody? He was a—he was sort of a jerk" over and over. It's not really a melody, but when repeated it begins almost to sound like one. Peter Berryman suggests elaborating on this notion by recording conversations and basing melodies on them. Jim Moskowitz adds that minimalist composer Steve Reich has used spoken-word techniques like this, most famously in a piece called "Different Trains," which uses recordings of people talking about 1940s US passenger trains and Nazi concentration-camp trains.

Turns out that Kirk is not the only subject of such remixes. Suddenly everyone seems to be talking about "They're taking the hobbits to Isengard!" and "Why is the rum gone?"

Who knew spoken words could provide such catchy melodies?

Title of entry, of course, refers to the three great traditions of the British Navy.

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