Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/61

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51
HOW SOUND AND WORDS ARE PRODUCED.

hold different resonators to the ear until we find the overtones. They must be the cause of the vowelizing of the tone sung. To prove it we take a tuning-fork vibrating the note of that vowel's overtone as found by the resonator, and, holding it in front of the mouth, we shape the mouth until it resounds to the tuning-fork. Keeping the mouth in this position, we sound the vocal chords, and the result is the vowel, thus proving that that particular overtone is its stamp. And so each vowel-sound is found to be due only to different overtones of the tone sung, brought out by the resonance of the mouth. Mixing in some of the other overtones forms the distinguishing peculiarity of individual voices.

Vowel-sounds, then, are really an exquisite musical harmony, being nothing but "chords" of the tone with its different overtones, different "chords" making different vowels. The common musical scale is derived from a tone and its overtones, by making, on separate strings, full tones corresponding to the overtones of some fundamental string-tone. That which produces a "chord" in music, where the harmony is made by full tones, would produce a vowel if the main tone only were full, and the "chording" tones overtones. When, then, a vowel is sung, high or low, it is still the same vowel at a different pitch—that is, the same "chord" in another key. But "chords" are music, and music means air-waves, so that vowels are musical air-waves. But vowels alone, which are only musical tones, will not make speech. Yet, by breaking into the vowel-tone with certain expressive noises called consonants, we can give the vowel-tone such a turn as to make its motion a copy of a motion of sensation, which, reaching the mysterious mechanism of an ear, will be changed back into a sensation.

It seems strange that words should be nothing but music broken up by different expressive noises, but we all know how differently we are affected by different noises. And in music it is recognized that different keys produce different effects; certain keys better than others, exciting certain emotions. But what are certain keys but certain vibrations, and these vibrations but certain motions? And, again, what are emotions but derived motions, which again are but vibrations?

To illustrate, let us follow the transmutations of a sensation. Let a "consciousness" be excited. That means motion, and from that tense focus the emotion rushes through the nerves, losing, in intensity as it gains more room—that is, the more nerves there are that are set in vibration the slower the vibration becomes—music still and in the same key, but lower down the scale. Suppose the key of the emotion or sensation to be the one that moves the hand, then the hand will act. Suppose the key to be the one whose "chords" the vocal mechanism plays in, then that will take up the nerve-waves, which will thus be transformed into air-waves, but who can tell how many octaves below the pitch of the sensation-waves in the nerves? The waves have passed as through a lens, and been magnified like mites in a magic-lantern. Suppose the sensation to have made one speak the word "hope." We