Saturday, June 03, 2017
  Can Morse carry intonation? No.

A couple days ago I was thinking about the restrictions placed on symbols....
When printing came along in 1400, symbols had to freeze in place so that printers could rely on a standard typecase. When telegraphs arrived in 1830, the restriction got even stronger. Typewriters in 1880 tightened the grip more.

We stayed in typewriter mode from 1880 to 2000, so we couldn't properly imagine an unlimited symbol set. Restriction was the default, the water in the fishbowl. Now Unicode is opening the bowl slightly; emoticons are pulling in the direction of ideograms; an expansion of SVG could break the bowl, but it looks like SVG isn't growing or flourishing.
Two of those points mixed to form a strange question. We're just now opening up the ASCII limits on computer symbols. Would it be possible to open up Morse? Can keying be expressive? Can Morse have intonation?

I tried it with my practice key, which I keep close to the computer and use several times per day to keep skills running. The practice key has a beeper with a knob for pitch. I tried sending with right hand and controlling pitch with left. Complete fail. Ended up 'stuttering' with the key, so the result was garbled. In theory the left brain, controlling right hand, should be in charge of the letters, while the right brain, controlling left hand, should be in charge of the music. Nope. Theory blows.

So I created the result with software. Modified my nice little Morse sender python to include intonation, by treating numbers as pitch commands.

Tried it with a dumb bit of text, as follows:

5hi 4cla3ra. 5how 4was 4your 5trip 4to 4the 6co4ast? 4do 6you 5want 4to 3come 4wi5th 6m7e?

The result in MP3 form does what I told it to do, but it still fails.



Mixing pitch with a code that isn't built from real laryngeal waves and formants just doesn't work.

Since Morse is a time-duration code, it's possible that pulling durations may be a more fitting form of expression. Modern English doesn't use duration phonemically, so a native English speaker isn't tuned to small variations. Many languages do use duration. For some reason the agglutinators like Finnish and Japanese and Hungarian are strong on distinctions in length and weak in pitch distinctions. Anglo-Saxon formerly used length phonemically; we still incorrectly use the terms Long and Short, but the "Long" vowels in Modern English have become diphthongs unrelated to the original. Length seems to be a factor that comes and goes over centuries, which means it's always "available" to some degree.

Later: Tried duration instead of intonation, and it works!

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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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