Friday, October 16, 2009

Speaking of Kempelen

We're very excited to announce that a first edition of Wolfgang von Kempelen’s monumental work on speech synthesis, Wolfgangs von Kempelen Mechanismus der menschlichen Sprache nebst Beschreibung seiner sprechenden Maschine (or, Wolfgang von Kempelen's Mechanism of Human Speech with a Description of his Speaking Machine) is now available to researchers here in Historical Collections & Archives. This pioneering study of artificial speech and phonetics has been placed on long-term loan by Richard Sproat, PhD, computational linguist and professor at OHSU's Center for Spoken Language Understanding.

The book includes detailed diagrams of the machine constructed by Kempelen and of the human vocal apparatus. A working copy of Kempelen’s voice synthesizer has been reproduced using the text, and is on display at the Deutsches Museum in Munich (see some photos online here).

The first edition of Kempelen’s work is extremely scarce, as are later reprints, and the text is not available digitally. Dr. Sproat and the OHSU Library will investigate the possibility of digitizing this item while it is on loan. Of note: This particular copy is from the collection of Andras Gedeon, author of Science and technology in medicine: an illustrated account based on ninety-nine landmark publications from five centuries (2006).

We extend our great thanks to Dr. Sproat for sharing his Kempelen with the OHSU community and researchers throughout the Pacific Northwest. Researchers interested in artificial speech and phonetics are encouraged to contact us for more information.