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Fractal Phonemes

This is a part of my MA project from 1998 at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design in London. It is about finding a new editorial structure that mirrors the content of a text better than the codex book format does, or set with typefaces as they commonly look today.

The phonetic alphabet we use in western society today was developed at the same time as the euclidean geometry, around year 600 BC. Therefore it is easy to understand why it is built up by squares, circles and straight lines.

Fractal shapes are the opposite to euclidean shapes. Their characteristics are self similarity, scale, feedback and infinity. Their dimension is something that is in between zero, one, two and three dimensions. It is not until recent years mathematicians, meteorologists and other scientists have become aware of this new geometry.

Fractal geometry is something that we are surrounded by, the world is built up by fractals. The human body is fractal, even our thoughts have a fractal structure. The only things that are not fractal are human made objects.When an idea is put on paper it should be a projection of the authors mind. The idea - the content of the text is fractal, therefore the text would be more correct visualised in a fractal way.

A letter in phonetic script represents a sound, something that probably has more to do with fractal form than euclidean form. The letter "e" for example is not a natural visualization of the sound "e". The sign "e" is a simple two dimensional (euclidean) shape, but the sound "e" has an endless amount of nuances and dimensions.

I found that the structuralist Roman Jakobson explains the phoneme’s structure as a bunch of distinctive features. According to him, the phoneme is broken down into binary oppositions, each unit can be broken down into smaller units. Without talking about fractals he explains fractal characteristics.

I have made a 92 page book where I have looked upon different ways of visualizing fractal phonemes, here you can see some of them.

Helena Wahlman

By kuma on Apr 1, 2002 in