Date of Degree
Access restricted until 08/31/2021
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
My dissertation is the first project to situate the telephone in the context of Britain’s efforts to standardize the English language. I argue for a new understanding of literary modernism as profoundly influenced by advances in telephony and their recruitment for the imperial work of linguistic purification. Using a methodology that combines media theory, sound studies, disability studies, psychoanalytic theory, and gender criticism, I locate in the works of Joseph Conrad, George Bernard Shaw, T. S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf a preoccupation with the fantasy of perfect sound reproduction that is always tethered to the mother tongue and its protocols of enunciation. By examining a range of Victorian and modern technologies from the ear phonautograph to the sound spectrograph, I trace the development of a telephonic literature between 1899 and 1941—a literature concerned with intelligibility, with the accurate registering and reproduction of sound. I recover the phonic subtexts of these works to show how they subject their readers to the sort of “audile training” required of early telephone users, whose practiced hearing and refined speech were needed to overcome the noise of the network. My project ultimately demonstrates how advances in communication engineering, motivated by racialized, gendered, and ableist ideals of linguistic and sonic purity, shaped modernist texts that endeavored to reproduce sighted sound. In doing so, it redefines literary modernism in terms of its ties with imperial media that assisted in the linguistic colonization of British subjects, revealing how the fantasy of a “pure, originary” mother tongue and fears of the degradation of English shaped a modernist aesthetic that negotiated between wanting to eradicate linguistic difference and desiring to embrace the “noise” inherent within all communication.
Elocution, Media, Modernism, Prescriptivism, Telephony, Voice
viii, 268 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 242-268).
Copyright © 2017 Jennifer Anne Janechek
Janechek, Jennifer Anne. ""A machine to hear for them": telephony, modernism, and the mother tongue." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2017.
Available for download on Tuesday, August 31, 2021