Sonic Dictionary

Sonic Dictionary
2013 to 2016
Humanities Lab

The Sonic Dictionary is a multi-course, multi-institution collaborative experiment initially hosted by the Audiovisualities Lab and then migrated into Story Lab. The project's goal is to build a digital database of sounds that can be accessed and searched freely as if it were a “dictionary.”

The project was inspired by the lack of reference materials available for students and teachers of sonic material, whether musical, environmental, or technological. This enterprise aims to experiment with the form of a dictionary to imagine how audio recordings can be used to enhance understanding of vocabulary related to auditory culture.

Existing music encyclopedias give information about many sounds but contain actual recordings of very few. You would be hard-pressed to find a reference source that could actually inform you of the difference between the way a high hat and kick drum sound. This creates challenges for non-specialist students of music and non-musical sound. Sheet music and descriptive language cannot explicitly communicate what a bassoon sounds like, much less a film projector! With this in mind, this project addresses a void in sound-based reference material.

In Spring 2016, Sonic Dictionary will have been incorporated into 19 courses, enrolling approximately 250 students.  In addition to course at Duke, it has also been used in two courses at Oberlin College, two courses and North Carolina School of the Arts, and one course at the University of North Texas.  The collection currently includes 650 sound recordings.


Mary Caton Lingold
Graduate Student, Engish


Sonic Dictionary Workshop at HASTAC
Sonic Dictionary Workshop at HASTAC
-- Oct 11 2016

Sonic Dictionary, the HWL project that has been building a searchable public database of sounds, was recently the focus of a workshop presented by the Publishing Makerspace working group of... Read More

Documenting the South Through Sound
Documenting the South Through Sound
-- Dec 3 2013

Duke Today has featured Sounds of the South (ENG90S.04), a course affiliated with the Audiovisualities Lab.  

Mary Caton Lingold, the instructor for Sounds of the South, is also the project... Read More


2013 to 2015