Writing voice and speaking text

The Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies in collaboration with Langnet organizes an interdisciplinary symposium on diachronic and synchronic aspects of speech on June 7-8, 2018.

Researchers in the humanities are experts at analyzing 'text': they mine it for discursive meaning, document semiotic shifts, find clues about social realities and study syntactic structures. Language, however, exists (and is constantly practiced and reproduced) in less permanent forms as well. Spoken or signed, language can be eerie, temporal and inherently fragile. The precise relationship between these anchored (diachronic, written) instances of linguistic utterance, and the more fleeting (synchronic, spoken) ones is difficult to define – even if the written text analyzed is a 'transcript' of speech, or if the spoken word is read off the page.

In this symposium we want to address the links and tensions between spoken and written language exactly in those instances where they seem to mirror or mimic each other, as in prepared media interviews (print or broadcast), drama, speech-to-text interpretation or transcribed speeches or interviews (Wiklund 2014; Sharmin e.a.2016; Tiittula 2009; Robson 2013; Bleyen 2009). Though sensitive to different modes of narrative and orality, analyses of these types of 'transcription' often rest on the implicit assumption that speech and text are, if not identical, at least closely related. As if writing is indeed 'imitation talking', a copy –albeit a poor one – of spoken reality (Chittick, 1988; Galembert e.a. 2014).

Recent studies in literature, linguistics and sound studies have questioned this 'phonographic claim' (Butler, 2015), and have reframed the relation between written and spoken language as one of shared 'matter' or roots rather than mimesis – and as the result of extensive cultural and technological work (Bergeron, 2010; Connor, 2004). Challenging the phonographic claim, however, also compels us to rethink the nature and possible use of transcribed (or prescribed) speech. The stories that people tell and the ways in which they tell them to interviewers, reporters, folklorists etc (e.g. structure, genre, temporality, emotion markers etc.) are turned from synchronic, spoken material to diachronic, written texts through processes of transcription and punctuation that follow various conventions for recording, but differ across time, genre, groups of researchers and etno-linguistic groups. For researchers, transcription often starts the process of analysis - facilitating some forms of analysis, precluding others and losing extra-verbal clues.

By bringing together different disciplinary perspectives on the relation between speech and text, we want to facilitate a discussion on the various methodological problems that arise from the uneasy relation between speech and text for current research questions in linguistics, sociology, history, folklore studies and literature.

Taking the methodological struggles within the organizers' respective research fields as a point of departure, the symposium focuses on questions concerning:

the relation between the rhythms and melodies of speech and its different 'transcripts' (including issues such as prosody, interpunction, techniques of transcription such as speech-to-text interpreting) (Wichmann 2000; Couper-Kuhlen 2000, 2006; Chafe 1980; 1994; Wiklund 2014, 2015).

the ability of (poetic) text to convey aspects of traditions and conventions of orality (including analyses of meter, oral and written transmission of narratives, the role of memory and imagination in practices of listening) (Stepanova 2014; Labelle 2014; Bettini 2008)

the capacity of written text to capture and preserve aspects of speech across time (including the use of transcribed speech as a source for historical or sociological analysis, the rise of different technologies of writing and transcription, the influence of recording technology on the status of the written text) (Picker 2001; Shopes 2012; Sterne, 2004)

We propose to explore these methodological opportunities and tensions through 6 thematic sessions – each of which will bring aspects of the spoken and written word together. The themes are provisionally entitled Representing speech: modes of transcription and recording; Prescriptive text: reading aloud; Analyzing speech through text; Sway and syncopation: rhythmic text; Pitch and prosody: melodic text; Retrieving lost orality: historical text.

Organizing team
Josephine Hoegaerts
Ann Phoenix
Ilya Sverdlov
Mari Wiklund