- Alexander Ellis’s Translation of Helmholtz’s Sensations of Tone
- Volume | Issue number
- 109 | 2
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA)
This essay relocates Alexander J. Ellis’s translation of Hermann von Helmholtz’s book Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik (1863) in a broader context. It discusses Ellis’s various endeavors to make knowledge available to those with limited access to it and, more specifically, his attempts at making the sound of speech accessible to readers of printed text. Against this background, the essay then compares the central notion of tone sensation in Helmholtz’s book to Ellis’s rendition thereof. As will be seen, Ellis preferred familiarity to literal translation, but he also made great efforts to convey the quality of speech sounds where these became the object of investigation. This double strategy—which was not in line with Helmholtz’s forging of anew theory of perception through defamiliarizing common terms—forced Ellis into exuberant explanations that eventually overgrew the carefully transmitted original, resulting in what amounted to a book of his own.
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Alexander Ellis’s Translation of Helmholtz’s Sensations of Tone (Embargo up to and including 31 May 2019)
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