Sabine Arnaud (Paris): When Machines Speak

Abbé Mical, Wolfgang von Kempelen and the Eighteenth-Century Fascination for Articulation

01.06.2017 um 16:00 Uhr

wann: Donnerstag, 01. Juni 2017, 16-18 Uhr

wo: Historicum, Schellingstr. 12, Raum K202

Vortrag im Rahmen des Oberseminars "Perspektiven der Wissenschaftsgeschichte"

The fascination for the invention of a speaking machine lay at the intersection of two important topics for the eighteenth century: articulation as a sign of civilization, andthe polemic of man as machine. As the teaching of speech for so-called “deaf and mute” pupils developed, some saw the machine as that which would complete the work of nature and provide mankind with new means of communication. Others went so far as to present the machine as a model that could teach articulation and the workings of the human voice. As such, the speaking machine represented, on the one hand, a source of enchantment and awe: if machines could speak, could language still be considered an exclusively human characteristic? On the other hand, if articulation was mechanical, what distinguished humans from animals? My paper will analyze how the invention of two speaking-machines, in France by Canon Mical and in Germany by Wolfgang von Kempelen, challenged conception about language acquisition and led to articulate anew the relationship between body, machine, and language in relation to humanity as such.