Viva voce—“with living voice,” but also (and more commonly) the phenomenon of “word of mouth.” When incidents of speech, song, or shouting take place, it is the mouth that transforms private impulse into audible sound. Articulatory phonetics tells us that this physiological transubstantiation is little more than the aerodynamic energy of breath rendered into sound waves, or acoustic energy. Yet when do words become more than translations, and mouths more than translating machines?
How do words fare when adapted across different media? From censorship to speech impediments to tensions of class, race, ethnicity, and ability, failures to communicate by word of mouth manifest everywhere. Are these failures being remediated, and if so, by what means have words (and mouths) been altered to increase their accessibility and intelligibility? On the other end of the spectrum, how do we prevent our private words from becoming word of mouth in an age…
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