Signals and Noises

A Manner of Speaking

Photos Danielle Baker

A Manner of Speaking evolved out of a fascination with linguistics, specifically the various phonemes of which human speech is constructed. Phonemes are the "atoms" of speech, the smallest irreducible units of vocal production. Linguists have created the International Phonetic Alphabet to transcribe and study the world's languages, in which a unique symbol represents every phoneme.

In A Manner of Speaking, the phonemes are arranged into eleven groupings:

  • rounded vowels
  • unrounded vowels
  • voiced fricatives
  • unvoiced fricatives
  • voiced plosives
  • unvoiced plosives
  • laterals and approximants
  • nasals
  • trills and flaps
  • ejectives and implosives
  • clicks and affricates

Six automatons (robots) draw from these collections to create a playful version of a chat on the back porch. As each phoneme is uttered, its IPA symbol is also displayed. Unlike human speech, the robots' utterances are rhythmically synchronized, to accentuate their musical qualities.

The photos and videos on this page are from an installation of A Manner of Speaking at a project space in Seattle, Washington, during May and June 2012. A Manner of Speaking is dedicated to linguists everywhere.