Do you remember why Joseph Sauveur is important to our profession? If you do, you could have done better than a recent contestant on the legendary gameshow, Jeopardy. The question posed was: “Born hearing-impaired in 1653, Joseph Sauveur studied sound vibrations and coined this word for the science he pioneered.” While I was impressed that the contestant guessed “audiology,” the correct answer was actually “acoustics.”
It may be many years since we cracked open our acoustic textbook, and perhaps some of the historical context was forgotten over the years, but Sauveur’s unique story is worthy of a revisit. As the quiz show alluded, Sauveur had congenital, possibly hereditary, hearing impairment. However, the exact degree and etiology is unsurprisingly unknown. What is reported is that he and did not speak until he was seven years old and that he had a speech impediment throughout his adult life. It was also reported that one of his son’s had a similar condition.
Despite his challenges, Sauveur attended school and developed an impressive aptitude in mathematics. His other areas of study included geometry, hydrostatics, and statistical analysis of games of chance. This latter subject reportedly made him a favorite among the French nobility.
It seems unlikely, given his auditory limitations, that Sauveur would devote so much time and study to music and sound theory. His abilities and accomplishments opened many doors, and he was inducted as a member of the Academy of Science in in 1696. We have Sauveur to thank for developing acoustic theories such as frequency, harmonics, wavelength, and octaves, forever coupling mathematics to sound. For more information on Sauveur’s life visit the reference links.
Sack H. (2021) Joseph Sauveur and the Science of Acoustics. SciHi Blog (accessed July 20, 2021).
Words.fromoldbooks.org. (2021) 1812 Chalmers’ Biography Joseph Sauveur (accessed July 20, 2021).
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