Meet Alex

No, not that Alex, although he’s interesting, too.

Alex is a new voice that ships with Leopard. (Windows/Linux users can hear him reading from Edgar Rice Burroughs here. I think that file’s recorded at a slightly faster-than-normal pace.) I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to Alex while I copyedit the source texts for my forthcoming Alton Locke and Paul Clifford editions. Basically, my process is that I have two transcriptions of original publications, which I collate against one another to check for errors. Then, I have Alex read the resulting version aloud, paragraph by paragraph, while I check it against the original. I slow the voice down a bit, just for sanity’s sake.

I don’t mind saying that Alex reads Victorian fiction aloud better than 75% of my students, at least on their first encounter with it. I’m not making the comparison to run them down: Obviously Alex doesn’t have to deal with shyness, unfamiliarity, or any of the other foibles associated with undergraduate readers. But anyone who’s taught a lit class knows that the default reading-aloud voice is an inexpressive monotone, one that runs right over any subtleties of punctuation or other nuances. (Jerome McGann’s “The Alice Fallacy” is good on this–he proposes “a commandment forbidding students [and anybody else] to talk about ideas in literature until they show they can sight-read fifty lines of verse without sending everyone howling from the room.”)

But Alex catches some subtleties–not all, of course, but he’s a free software feature. He pauses, not just at commas, periods, and the like, but also at quotation marks. (Why do I keep calling him he? Alex breathes . . . !) His voice lilts upwards slightly at question marks, and there’s a slight intensification for exclamation points. British place names can be a bit of tricky for him, and hearing him try to do Sandy Mackaye’s Scottish accent borders on painful, but otherwise it’s really quite reasonable to listen to him for long stretches.

I got Leopard for Christmas, and thus far Alex & Time Machine are probably the two features that have had the most tangible effect on my day-to-day work.

Finally, watch/hear Alex sing Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough”!!!

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