What is fluency? Is it the lack of stutters? Does it signify perfection? How do we show the hidden complexity behind fluent speech? When we mention “fluency,” thoughts of speaking smoothly often come to mind. Disfluencies have been viewed as undesirable due to cultural perceptions. What if our pauses and irregular flow of speech aren’t seen as undesirable?
We can take a melismatic approach to speech. Melisma typically refers to singing multiple notes per syllable. In Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” “iiiiiiiieeeee-iiiiii,” will always love “yoooooo-uuuuu” are examples of melisma. When recorded into a spectrogram, disfluency in speech is identical to melismatic singing. A spectrogram, often called voiceprints, is a visual representation of frequencies as it varies with time. What if we could use voiceprints to destigmatize stuttering?
Voice Print is a book about the way we speak, and celebrating our “disfluencies” as part of our identity. Each transcription functions as a musical score, capturing speech by mapping out sound and time through a rigorous, controlled typographic system. Limiting ourselves to a few simple rules allows us to discover patterns and shapes within our speech, and draw connections between stuttering and melismatic singing. Repetition, prolongation and hesitation can be seen in both stutters and melisma, revealing facets of our linguistic style. Essays in the book are designed to imitate the fluidity and freedom of the notations.
Voice Print allows us to understand the “harmonic sequence” of a sentence, shedding light upon the expression in the way we speak.