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The signification of the signed voice

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Embodiment is central to voice studies, but describing vocality as a material figure requires that the embodied voice be defined, implicitly and/or in stark terms. Consequently, apparently self-evident loci of the voice emerge as the throat, mouth, tongue, and ear, yet these physical sites reveal a narrow view of voicing. In particular, Deafness and sign language hold a tenuous position at the fringe of voice studies, to be evaded or invoked only as a special case. Examining voice as it is conceived of by Deaf people and academics, hearing culture, and voice studies, as well as cognitive neuroscience, I argue that the forces excluding Deaf voice and language rely on truisms from western metaphysics. Rooted in the mind-body divide, these assumptions regard gesture and movement as primitive or beast-like. In discourse surrounding the voice, they are manifest in terminology that privileges tone, timbre, pitch, and high-frequency material vibration. This embodied turn is driven by latent beliefs surrounding sound and its associated anatomy, resulting therefore in the omission not only of sign language, but of gesture and other nonverbal vocal actions. Intrinsically linked with the body, rhythm encounters a similar fate. In critique of sound quality and the division of senses, I draw together Deaf insights with neurobiological investigations of multimodality, action perception, and rhythm cognition, and submit that temporal and action-based frameworks offer an alternative means by which to source the vocal body, one that fluidly accommodates hearing voices, Deaf voices, and the movements they share in common.
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Keywords: Deaf studies; Deafness; cognitive science; embodiment; rhythm; sensory studies; sign language

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University College London

Publication date: November 1, 2018

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  • JIVS provides a forum for scholarly and practice-based engagement with voice as a phenomenon of communication and performance, and a methodology or metaphor for analysis. This peer-reviewed journal draws on an interdisciplinary series of lenses, including cultural studies, critical theory, performance studies, inter-culturalism, linguistics, visual culture, musicology, architecture and somatics.
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