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1911 __ Laboratoire de phonétique expérimentale
Pierre Rousselot (1846-1924)
Comment : « The first service of l’Abbé Rousselot was to introduce a new method into the study of speech and language. Since the days of Bopp and Grimm, linguitics has developed into a great edifice of learning through the study of the languages of the past. Under the leadership of Paul and Sweet, the later workers began to consider languages as the productions of speaking individuals. Sweet in particular emphasized the importance of studying the sounds as they are made by persons of the present day. Rousselot’s great contributions to linguistics are his introduction of methods of accurate registration and measurement into the study of language, and his insistence upon the fact it is only by studying the phenomena going on around us to-day that we can understand what has happened in the past. When Rousselot set him-self to study the dialects of his native town by experimental methods, his act was as important in linguistics as Galileo’s dropping the weights from the tower of Pisa was in physics. Unfortunately, Rousselot apparatus did not make so much noise as Galileo’s weights, and, even after thirty years, hardly a linguist has awakened to the fact that a new method lies ready for his use. The first problem that confronted Rousselot was the necessity for inventing apparatus for registering and studying speech. Under his directions the apparatus-mechanician Charles Verdin produced a series of new pieces of great use. Rousselot plunged into the most manifold problems relating to speech, and most of his life was devoted to phonetics in all its branches, so much so that the linguistic problems fell into the background. His pupils were trained as phoneticians, and not as linguists. This was, and still is, the necessary stage in development, because, until the phonetic principles are well established, there is no hope of attacking the larger problems of linguistics. Rousselot foresaw and began the application of phonetic methods to the teaching of languages, to the study of the singing voice and other scientific and pratical disciplines. He is fully entitled to honour as the « Father of Experimental Phonetics ». (Edward W. Scripture, Professor of Experimental Phonetics in the University of Vienna, In « L’Abbé Rousselot » Reprinted from « Modern Languages», October, 1924)Both André Spire and Robert de Souza [two poets, ardent proponents of the new “vers libre”, close to the Imagist Manifesto by Ezra Pound] had been attracted to the work of the abbé Pierre-Jean Rousselot (1846-1924), the founder of experimental phonetics in France, who occasionally invited poets to his laboratories at the Collège de France to conduct experiments on the phonological analysis of poetic diction. The ardent vers libristes were presumably eager to find out whether Rousselot’s modern recording devices (which produced what look like intricate seismographs of vowels, consonants, pitch, and tempo) could provide scientific proof that free verse was, in its own way, just as “regular” or “formal” (in terms of the patternings of accents or quantities) as, say, the traditional alexandrine. Pound was apparently recruited by Spire to read “The Return” into the abbé’s “phonoscope.” He recounts his session at Rousselot’s Laboratoire de Phonétique Experimentale in a little-known 1935 piece (“Retrospect: Interlude”) included in his Polite Essays: « There was in those days [1912-1913] still a Parisian research for technique. Spire wrangled as if vers libre were a political doctrine.De Souza had what the old Abbé called une oreille très fine, but he, the Abbé, wrapped up De Souza’s poems and asked me to do likewise in returning them lest his servante should see what I was carrying. The Abbé was M. Rousselot who had made a machine for measuring the duration of verbal components. A quill or tube held in the nostril, a less shaved quill or other tube in the mouth, and your consonants signed as you spoke them. They return, One and by one, With fear, As half awakened, each letter with a double registration of quavering. » (“Polite Essays”, London: Faber & Faber, 1937, pp. 129-30). (Richard Sieburth, “The Sound of Pound: A Listener’s Guide)The Work of Voice in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, 2007).
French comment : Dans les dernières années du XIXème siècle, le rôle du phonographe s'élargit. La machine prend sa place dans la recherche scientifique, avec la création du Laboratoire de phonétique expérimentale animé par l'Abbé Rousselot, sous l'égide la chaire de grammaire comparée du Collège de France occupée par Michel Bréal. Les techonologies du sonore font alors leur apparition dans l'instrumentarium de la recherche. (Marc Battier)L'abbé Rousselot est considéré comme le fondateur de la phonétique expérimentale tant en recherche fondamentale qu'en recherche appliquée. Il a proposé d'étudier les modifications phonétiques des parlers par une méthode expérimentale et d’en induire les lois phonétiques des changements en cours et plus généralement les processus analysés jusque-là par la linguistique historique. Les deux volumes des Principes de Phonétique Expérimentale qui sont publiés en 1897 et 1901 marquent le tournant d’une véritable réarticulation scientifique : la phonétique, après la médecine de Claude Bernard (1865) et la psychologie de Pierre Janet (1889), va ainsi se déplacer dans le cadre des sciences expérimentales des sciences de la vie et de l'Homme. C'est par des observations sur le terrain qu'il comprend que "la phonétique devait prendre pour base, non des textes morts, mais l'homme vivant et parlant". C'est par l'incapacité de ses maîtres à réentendre à partir de ses propres notations ce que son oreille exercée avait entendu sur le terrain qu'il se met à l'enregistrement à l'aide d'appareils dérivés ou créés à partir de l'instrumention de la physiologie expérimentale du laboratoire d'Étienne-Jules Marey du Collège de France. Pour lui, la phonétique expérimentale, science d'observation et d'expérimentation, débouche naturellement sur des applications pédagogiques et thérapeutiques. L'enseignement du français, des langues étrangères, la correction des erreurs de prononciation et la rééducation des sourds en constitueront les champs. (Compiled from various sources)
Source : Battier, Marc (2006), "Des unanimistes à l'art sonore : quand la littérature, l'art et la musique recréent la technologie", in Musique et Modernité en France (1900-1945), Observatoire International de la Création Musicale, Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal, chap. 15, pp. 389-415.
Urls : http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Pierre_Rousselot (last visited ) http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/linking-page/text/Sieburth-Richard_Pound.html (last visited )

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