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'Sound Matters': An exploratory Workshop into Sound and Digital Humanities

Friday 26 August 2022
Old Observatory
Sterrenwachtlaan 11
2311 GW Leiden

The Digital Humanities are flourishing, but they are still largely focussed on textual and visual objects. These are objects of sight, but a significant portion of human life is experienced through sound – in our day to day communication, in the music that we listen to, in the soundscapes of urban and rural life. 
This workshop aims to tackle the following questions, to explore how the digital humanities can refocus on sound and what tools can be created to help:

  • How can Digital Humanities help us to reconstruct phonic properties?
  • How can the inclusion and embedding of phonic properties be properly represented for textual, visual and other kinds of content in our digital working methods and in our outputs?
  • How can the Digital Humanities lead to new ways of incorporating phonic data in our research?
  • How can the multimedia aspect of human experience, e.g. the combination of visual, auditory, and cognitively embodied experience, be properly understood and studied within the Digital Humanities?

Organisers: Tazuko van Berkel, Matthew Payne & Antje Wessels 
With the kind support of Anchoring Innovation and the OIKOS Research Platform Digital Classics

To register for the workshop, email Iris van Kuijk by Friday 19th August.
For any other enquiries, please email
a.b.wessels@hum.leidenuniv.nl (Antje Wessels).


10:00-10:15 coffee

10:15-10:20: Tazuko van Berkel: Opening and Welcome

10:20-10:35 Check-in

10:35-10:45 Antje Wessels: Introductory Remarks

10:45-11:25 Marcel Cobussen: On Sonic Materialism

11:25-11:30 coffee pit-stop

11:30-12:10 João Carlos Santos: Meaning and Expression in Historical Theories of Delivery

12:10-13:45  lunch break

13:45-14:05: Matthew Payne & Luuk Nolden: Welcome back for the afternoon session & A brief introduction to the Automated Latin Scansion Tool 

14:05-14:45 Alessandro Vatri: Introducing Diorisis Scan

14:45-15:05 coffee break

15:05-15:45 Alie Lassche: Semantic halo in European poetry: the relationship between poetic meter and meaning

15:45-15:50 coffee pit-stop

15:50-16:30 Wouter Haverals: Forgotten rhythms. A computer-aided reconstruction of the rhythm of medieval Dutch poetry.

16:30-17:00 final discussion: Where do we go from here?

17:15 drinks


Marcel Cobussen 
On Sonic Materialism 
Since the turn of the millennium, philosophy has been enriched with a new “-ism”: New Materialism. However, as usual in most philosophical movements, this New Materialism is grounded in the visual and the existence of (static) objects. Building on the ideas to develop a Sonic Materialism as generated by (among others) Christoph Cox and Salome Voegelin, I will present – with the help of an unexpected (sounding) guest – an Auditory Ontoepistemology as an alternative way to encounter the world. 

João Carlos Santos
Meaning and Expression in Historical Theories of Delivery
According to some historical theories of communication, language divided itself into two categories of signs: conventional signs and expressive signs. The former corresponded roughly with words, sentences and the concepts and thoughts they could refer to; the latter with the melodious inflections including rhythm and pitch, and other noises a speaker would add to a given speech. While playing with ideas and building up arguments was essential in any kind speech be it prosaic or poetic, treatises from classical antiquity until the early 20th Century still privileged the expressive signs or the "melody of speaking" as the primary tool to move the passions of an audience. If all we have of historical speeches are texts which preserve well conventional signs, but only very poorly their expressive delivery, how much have we understood about the meaning and cultural function of these texts? And how can historical study of techniques of delivery and declamation actually help us reconstitute the expression of rhetoric and dramatic traditions?

Luuk Nolden 
A brief introduction to the Automated Latin Scansion Tool 
Latin poetry is based around quantitative meters: long and short syllables are arranged in rhythmic patterns. Can machine learning deduce these rhythmic patterns? The Automated Latin Scansion Tool, hosted at the Open Source Classics Commentary site (ossc.lucdh.nl), utilizes machine learning, especially neural networks, to scan lines of Latin poetry. The project tried a range of different models, including the Long short-term memory (LTSM) model and Conditional Random Fields (CRF) model. A brief overview of some of the results will be provided, discussing the accuracy of scansions produced by different models on different meters as well as concrete findings about the size and quantity of training sets required. 

Alessandro Vatri
Introducing Diorisis Scan
This talk will introduce a new metre-unaware Python tool for the scansion of both Greek verse and prose. Several automatic scansion tools are based on the application of the rules of Greek prosody and aim to deduce the weight of graphically ambiguous syllables (e.g. open syllables whose vowels are α, ι, or υ) based on the expected patterns characterizing the metre indicated by the user. Such an approach is not viable for the automatic scansion of prose, where the existence of any patterns is at best hypothetical. This tool combines the automatic application of prosodic rules with the use of a large dictionary counting ca. 575000 scanned forms, which allows scanning stretches of language of any size without resorting to metrical information. The tool is also able to recognize metrical patterns and to make decisions concerning syllables whose weight may vary according to the application of prosodic/metrical rules (e.g. synizesis, elision, prevocalic shortening, etc.), for which all possible scansions are returned otherwise.

Alie Lassche
Semantic halo in European poetry: the relationship between poetic meter and meaning
Recent advances in cultural analytics and large-scale computational studies of creative domains such as art and literature provide increasing evidence that change in features of artistic works happen gradually over extended periods of time. This can for example be seen in lexical choices in fiction, writing styles, or aesthetic choices in poetry. These findings suggest that conservative forces that shape creative domains might be underestimated. In this study, we computationally test the relationship between poetic form and its meaning, known as the 'semantic halo'. We trace this association in a corpus of 18-19th century European poetry collections, including Czech, German, Russian, English, and Dutch poems and songs. Our findings highlight the role of the formal features of cultural items in influencing the pace and shape of cultural evolution.

Wouter Haverals
Forgotten rhythms. A computer-aided reconstruction of the rhythm of medieval Dutch poetry.
The rhythmical qualities of medieval Dutch poetry (ca. 1150-1500) are largely shrouded in mystery. This should not come as a surprise, since it is no easy task to gain insight into the auditory characteristics of a historical language of which – for evident reasons – there is an acute lack of native speakers. The current contribution will dive into the possibilities of reconstructing the rhythm of medieval Dutch poetry. To this end, techniques from the fields of computational linguistics and machine learning are employed. Exploiting both the acoustic information contained in medieval Dutch rhyme words, and 23,000 historical songs from the Dutch Song Database, an automated method was developed to predict the stress pattern – or: scansion – of historical Dutch poetry. Finally, this contribution will also focus on the assessment of the  computer-generated scansion proposals. What are the advantages of the method used, and what can they teach us today about the rhythm of a historical language?


On Thursday, 25 aug, 16:00, Alessandro Vatri will also give a lecture within the Forum Antiquum Series (University Library Leiden, Vossius Zaal):

Alessandro Vatri
Prose Rhythm, Asianism, and Atticism in Imperial Greek Rhetoric
The earliest extant hints at a theory of prose rhythm appear in Aristotle’s Rhetoric, but the bulk of the ancient evidence for the Greek tradition is found in the Greek and Roman rhetorical treatises from the Imperial period. The treatments of this topic in Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Quintilian show quite a different approach from the one we can reconstruct from earlier sources, in that it appears to adopt the toolbox of the ancient metricists as opposed to ancient rhythmics.  Theon’s Progymnasmata, on the other hand, present rhythm as a feature of Asianic prose and reveal a sensitivity to this phenomenon that resembles that of Aristotle or Demetrius more than that of Dionysius or of the treatise On the Sublime, whereas Hermogenes, later on, seems closer to the earlier sources than to the Imperial ones, even though he lays some emphasis on rhythmic clausulae. This paper will address such later stages in the evolution of the theory of prose rhythm and explore the influence of Hellenistic ‘Asianic’ rhetoric on this process.

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