Mara Mills

9:30AM Mara Mills, NYU

Diagrams of Speech Systems: From Process to Processing”

This talk will examine a series of predecessors to Claude Shannon’s “diagram for a general communication system.” In the 1870s, linguists, physiologists, and speech pathologists began making use of diagrams as a means to understand spoken language. In these diagrams, speech is imagined to be a process rather than an event, one in which a message is transmitted along a pathway that entails several changes in form. By the 1930s, illustrations of speech systems began to employ the block diagram aesthetic newly common to electrical engineering and to the “process charts” of workflow expert Frank Bunker Gilbreth. Gilbreth had introduced the process chart, or flow chart, in 1921: “a device for visualizing a process as a means of improving it.” A bodily or work process was subdivided into sequential components, sometimes with the help of micromotion studies, and improved through changes in timing or the subtraction of noise and waste. Similarly, in speech pathology and in telecommunications engineering the speech process had come to require processing.

There are no pre-circulated readings for this presentation.