Annals of research queries

(Or, Cheers: Does anybody know some work?)

A comment from me yesterday on my 8/7  posting “Melecio / Biaggi”, in which I noted the lifelong social stigma for sexworkers (Melecio / Biaggi being one such),

which I posted baffled comments on in my posting: there’s a moral question here, lying in the nexus between matters of sexual morality and matters of economic morality. So I thought to appeal to a moral philosopher [Tim Scanlon of Harvard] to ask if the question had been considered in the literature in that field.

… I keep posing queries (arising from my postings) to academics who are old friends (Tim; the phonetician John Wells [at University College London] on “difference illusions”, illusions that certain homophones are actually distinct in pronunciation [in my 8/9 posting “The khan con”]; and the [Stanford] linguist Paul Kiparsky on the metrics of chants [in my 7/18 posting “Between the glutes”])

Tim and John were intrigued by my queries, but had no literature to offer. Paul’s response was more complicated: over brunch, he and I together were able to recall a few items, so that I could write to their authors for assistance, and our conversation led me to realize that the topic was a great deal more complex than I had thought when I posed the query.

What I said on 7/18:

Writing about crowd chants [for, at least, sports teams, political causes, and rock groups] seems to be almost entirely about their content and the contexts in which they’re used. There is, however, some linguistic literature on the expressions that are adapted for chanting: on their prosodic properties, and the ways in which their prosody is adapted. I am working on unearthing this material and will report later on what I find.

Paul and I both recalled a paper by David Stein on sports chants, from a very long time ago. (DS was a student in the very first graduate cohort I taught at UIUC, in 1965; he got his PhD there in 1975, with the dissertation On the basis of English iambic pentameter). Paul and I both once had hard copies of the paper, but they vanished in moves and downsizings over the years, and apparently DS’s did too. Nobody seems to have had an electronic version, but then nobody had an electronic version of anything back then.

On to another David, David Gil (now at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany), who is British by birth, got his 1978 PhD from UCLA, and has been a number of places — Tel Aviv, Haifa, Singapore, Malaysia — since (this is relevant). Paul recalled a crowd-cheer paper of DG’s entitled “Cheers!”, but that too has vanished. However, in the list of publications on DG’s Max Planck page, as its very first item, there’s the 1978

“HaÍofet Ben Zona: Hebrew Soccer Cheers and Jeers”, Maledicta 2:129-145

Oh dear. I once had this issue of Maledicta — I had the whole run of the journal — but it was destroyed in the dispersal of my library several years ago.

So, of course, I e-mailed DG. And (on 8/1) got a familiar plaint in return:

Unfortunately I don’t currently have access to a copy of Gil (1978). It was written in a time before computers, when “cut-and-paste” actually involved scissors and glue. I know I once had a hardcopy of the volume in which the article appeared, but if it still exists, it is, for all practical purposes, lost in a trail of boxes left in the wake of my nomadic life.

In fact, there was even a sequel, titled “Where the dirty word goes”, which never got published. Also not ever published was the paper Paul Kiparsky (to my great surprise) remembers, “Cheers, a New Theory of Prosody”, but a later version of that, titled “Prosodic Structures and Prosodic Markers” (coauthored with David Stein) did appear in Theoretical Linguistics, but with the scansions so mangled by the typesetters that it was almost unreadable. Other than that, there are some other sporadic publications of mine on prosody, plus the first half of an unfinished magnum opus that I started and then stopped writing in some distant decade. One of my big regrets. Sigh.

The Gil & Stein paper:

“Prosodic Structures and Prosodic Markers”, Theoretical Linguistics 7:173-240 (1980)

[Over a long academic life you build up a Matterhorn of unfinished projects; I sigh with DG. Eventually you give up on those magnum opuses — or, more classily, magna opera — because your interests have shifted, or because there’s just no market for those ideas, or because the task is too great for the time you have, and you move on to something else.

An academic tale. Back in June I got an invitation to give a Zoom lecture or mini-course for university in another country, from a scholar who’s an enthusiast of my work from the last century. My agonized reply:

The lines of work that I used to do have, for whatever reason, completely lost favor with professionals in the field (about 20 years ago), so I have shifted to blogging quite regularly, but on topics of little interest to theoretical linguists or sociolinguists, and in a decidedly non-academic tone and style, which would surely not suit your students.

I’ve been reflecting hard on these matters for quite a while now. Perhaps the way to describe the situation is that the person you would like to have lecturing to your students died some years ago, and the person who lives on would not suit your needs. I am so sorry.]

At least, Maledicta and Theoretical Linguistics were and are, respectively, actually published journals, so that it ought to be possible to find volumes that can be photocopied or reproduced electronically (though since Theoretical Linguistics is published by De Gruyter, the company would probably insist on a fee). So if someone can help me get copies, I can at least see what DG said in print 40+ years ago.

Feelers to other scholars Paul and I thought might know of linguistic work on crowd chants have so far turned up nothing else. (I keep feeling that there must be elephants we’re missing.)

Now, I am not proposing to start a research project on the prosody of crowd chants; I have 50 or 60 research projects going right now, and, though they are not nearly as sweeping in scope as a chants project would seem to be, that’s plenty of work to occupy my time; anyway, my own specialty is a miniaturist exercise, extracting larger conclusions from very small observations. Instead, I’m hoping to encourage other people — ideally, much younger and more vigorous than I am — to explore the topic. Just as I’m hoping to encourage other people to investigate the outsized stigmatization of sexworkers, and still others to investigate illusions of difference. (One of my functions in academic life is to toss off intriguing questions — sweet topics — for others to pursue.)

Conceptual stuff. First, familiar stuff, but already surprisingly complex.

There’s considerable literature on

(a) accent in speech (within the word and within the phrase) vs. (b) metrical patterns in poetry; and on

(b) metrical patterns in poetry vs. (c) metrical patterns in music, organizing notes into patterns (in sung music, fitting text and tune)

In both cases, the two patterns can be distinct, but they are systematically related. An example for the (a)-(b) pairing: a syllable with secondary accent in speech might count as either strong (S) or weak (W) in poetry, depending on context; and a syllable that’s unaccented can count as either W or S, depending on context.  The third (and secondarily accented) syllable of twénty-thìrd counts as S in a trochaic line but W in a dactylic line, while the third (and unaccented) syllable of Hárrǐsŏn counts as S in a trochaic line, but W in a dactylic line. With the vowels of S syllables underlined:

trochaic SW SW SW S: twenty-third and Harrison

dactylic SWW SWW: Benjamin Harrison /Twenty-third President (a double-dactylic couplet)

The (b)-(c) pairing is still more complex.  The musical structuring in (c) involves organization on two planes simultaneously.

First, there’s rhythmic organization (which doesn’t depend on the music being sung): of musical beats into small groups, called bars, each with a fixed number of beats — 2, 3, 4, and 6 being the most common beat counts —  and a regular pattern of prominence within the bar, involving at least heavy (H) vs. mid-weight (h) vs. light (L) beats, which tend to be aligned with the S vs. W of poetry and are realized by the same phonetic features of prominence (loudness, length, and pitch). Conventional Western music strongly favors H-initial bars, so the canonical rhythmic patterns for bars in most familiar music are then: 2-beat H L, 3-beat H L L, 4-beat H L h L, 6-beat H L L H L L.

And then there’s what I guess I’ll have to call metrical organization, involving patterns of formal features in the larger units of sung music — in what are customarily called, alas, lines (here I’ll use mlines, for musical lines, because they correspond, though imperfectly, to poetic lines). In highly regulated sung music (as in hymn tunes, folk songs, nursery rhymes, and most popular music), the mlines have a fixed number of syllables, and are grouped into stanzas with a fixed number of mlines. This higher level of organization can then be described by a stanza formula: N lines, each of the N lines accorded a specific number of syllables.

For example, C.M. (Common Meter) — aptly named, since so many familiar pieces of music exhibit this pattern — has  4-mline stanzas, with syllable-counts 8, 6, 8, 6. A 6-beats-to-the-bar C.M. hymn, the wonderful Sweet Prospect, #65 in the 1991 Denson Sacred Harp:

(Poetic and musical lines coincide here — the default — so I’ll just refer to them as lines.)

In the annotated version of the 1st stanza below, | indicates a bar line; the syllables of each line are numbered; H syllables in the (6-beats-to-the-bar) music are in bold face (each H syllable takes 2 or 3 beats); S syllables in the (iambic tetrameter) poetry are in italics

| 1On 2Jor-3dan’s | 4stor-5my 6banks I 7I 8stand, — 1st LINE (8 syllables)

1And | 2cast 3a 4wish-5ful | 6eye, | — 2nd LINE (6 syllables)

| 1To 2Ca-3naan’s | 4fair 5and 6ha-7ppy | 8land — 3rd LINE (8 syllables)

1Where | 2my 3po-4sse-5ssions 6lie | — 4th LINE (6 syllables)

You will see that the H syllables and S syllables largely coincide, by having the H syllables take 2 or 3 beats; but that each line-initial H syllable is poetically W, producing a nice bit of tension between the two systems and making those initial syllables seem especially prominent: listen up!

More prosodic patterns. First,

(d) rhythmic patterns in dance (especially in social dances, which repeat basic figures over and over)

(e) rhythmic patterns in drumming

In both cases the patterns are regulated (though they are varied in performance) and they can be independent of song, or can be integrated with it. The question is what the basic figures are, and to what extent they are related to the patterns of (b) and (c).

In my “Between the glutes” posting, I ventured from crowd chant prosody to dance figures, in this passage:

Crowd chants. Central to the story are the crowd chants in it — first the simple chanted repetition of a name (here in the Latin-alphabet spelling):

a – nа –  – lіy!  (S W S W)

Then, the more complex Treasure Chant, with its cha-cha-cha rhythm:

IN TER … GLU – te AL! (and three levels of accent: S S | S W S, with superstrong S);
as a cha-cha-cha: 1 2 | CHA cha CHA

You might recognize this rhythm as similar to the simpler rhythm of this political crowd chant:

Hell, no! We won’t go! (S S | S W S)

(with a slogan conveying resistance to the draft for the Vietnam War).

(My notations for the prosody of chants (and dance rhythms) are entirely ad hoc, because I have no idea what an appropriate notation system would be; so I just borrowed stuff from notations for word accent and poetic prosody, hoping to get my intentions across.)

And then the two final prosodic patterns:

(f) prosodic patterns in recitations (including the reciting of mantras)

(g) prosodic patterns in crowd chants

Brief note on (f). From NOAD:

adj. singsong: (of a person’s voice) having a repeated rising and falling rhythm: the singsong voices of children reciting tables.

Not just a rhythm, but — note “rising and falling” — also a melody. That is, a prosody. As for the melodies, some crowd chants are, in fact, chant performances of specific songs. (It might then be that there are several different schemes for adapting spoken language to crowd chants.)

In any case, (g) is where we came in.


4 Responses to “Annals of research queries”

  1. Stewart Kramer Says:

    On illusions of difference, I’m reminded of the dance choreographic transcription system Labanotation. It’s widely derided as “write-only” (nobody ever seems to have used it seriously), but it can encode the intent of a motion (trying to be forceful, measured, or gentle; looking curiously, glancing in a detached or cursory manner), in addition to the perceptible differences in speed or position — for example, some near-sighted dancers are instructed to wear contact lenses so they can focus on the audience or scenery, instead of just aiming their heads in the correct direction. I can imagine that I try a little bit to articulate different schwa vowels based on their spelling, even if the effect isn’t perceptible by others. In theory, Labanotation could represent the tongue and mouth (where the relevant body parts are, and what the relevant muscles are doing), in addition to some kind of intent.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The problem here is that Labanotation is *too* detailed; it’s like IPA, providing a description of behavior at a very fine level of detail (well, like the IPA extended by still more symbols to indicate paralinguistic gestures), when what we want is a notation that indicates just the significant features — something like a phonemic transcription for the speech of a particular language variety. Something, as we used to say, that’s emic rather than etic.

  2. Danny Boy - London Derriere Says:

    (Begins off-topic!) When The Beatles’ “White Album” first appeared (and yes, I know that’s not the official title), I thought of it as their virtuoso mastery of a variety of styles or manners in rock/pop or even wider, and sometimes trying to imitate (and top?) a specific performer or song. So “Back in the USSR” seemed to be aimed at The Beach Boys and maybe “California Girls” in particular. “Revolution 9” was responding to, and maybe trying to join into, the electronic and “experimental” trends in academic or “classical” composing (think Boulez or Gunther Schuller, Terry Riley et al). “Rocky Raccoon” was maybe a development from American Country & Western.

    Then what was “Bungalow Bill”? Yes, there is a now well-attested story about an American hunter who showed up while the Beatles were with the Maharishi. But we fans didn’t know about that in 1968. The refrains about:

    All the children sing
    Hey, Bungalow Bill
    What did you kill
    What did you kill
    Bungalow Bill?

    sounded to us like a transformation of “Hey hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” which is for some of us the ur-streetchant from those actually experienced.

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    David Stein reminds me of another set of phenomena for the “More prosodic patterns” section above: what are called in the literature street cries, “the short lyrical calls of merchants hawking their products and services in open-air markets” (Wikipedia), which I knew under the same vendors’ calls, but that seems not to be the standard name.

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