Letter | Published:

The Phonograph and Vowel Theories


SEVERAL letters have appeared in NATURE bearing on the subject of the phonograph, and referring to our first communications upon the subject. We are glad to see that our statement as to the reversibility of consonants (NATURE, vol. xvii. p. 423) is generally accepted. We feel that as yet the phonograph does not speak with sufficient clearness to determine how perfect this reversibility is, and that the effect of many minute parts of articulate utterance cannot be heard with any certainty. Mr. Ellis, in his first communication, ranked the phonograph somewhat too low, but we are more than satisfied with the acknowledgment in his second letter (vol. xviii. p. 38). Mr. A. M. Mayer and Prof. Sylvanus Thompson both speak of the marks on the tinfoil as differing according to the distance of the mouth from the diaphragm. We do not observe any effect of this kind and see no theoretical reason for any alteration in the relative phases of the simple tones with a change of distance from the mouth. Mr. Mayer seems here to have fallen into an error. We find ample confirmation of Helmholtz's statement that the phase relation between two constituents is not appreciated by the ear. Each person usually, but not invariably, adheres to the same phase relation on one pitch, but different people pronouncing the same vowel with approximately the same constituents, combine these differently, which, as Mr. Mayer says, would make reading the marks on the tinfoil a very difficult matter.

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