Archive for Prosody

Excessive quadrisyllabicism

Many readers of Language Log will remember the visit of China's former internet censor-in-chief, Lu Wei, to the headquarters of Facebook, Apple, and Amazon in late 2014.  Those were his glory days, but now his star has fallen in a most spectacular fashion:

"China’s ‘tyrannical’ former internet tsar Lu Wei accused of trading power for sex in long list of corruption charges: Lu accused of a range of crimes from abusing power for personal gain to disloyalty", by Frank Tang (SCMP [2/13/18])

"China's former chief of internet regulator expelled from Communist Party" (Reuters [2/13/18)

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Sports chants

There was a big city-wide party last night here in Philadelphia, but the Philadelphia Orchestra, got on board back in early December:

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More on grammar, punctuation, and prosody

From "In the Groove, Jazz and Beyond", 12/17/2017:

We also pay tribute to another tragedy; the murder of John Lennon with jazz covers of several of his tunes.

Prepositional phrases like "with jazz covers of several of his tunes" are multiply ambiguous. Thus with can be comitative ("They rode with Kim") or instrumental ("open the can with a screwdriver") or several other sorts of things; and then there's the question of "attachment", i.e. which part of the preceding material it modifies.

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Recording-stable acoustic proxy measures

Behind yesterday's post about possible cultural differences in conversational loudness ("Ask Language Log: Loud Americans?" 11/25/2017), there's a set of serious issues in an area that's too frequently ignored: the philosophy of phonetics. [This is an unusually wonkish post on an eccentric topic — you have been warned.]

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Teacher is always honest

When I began studying Mandarin over half a century ago, I very quickly developed a pet phrase  (kǒutóuchán 口頭禪 / 口头禅):  lǎoshí shuō 老實說 / 老实说 ("to tell the truth; honestly"), After I married one of the best Mandarin teachers on earth (Chang Li-ching) several years later, she corrected me when I said my favorite phrase.  She told me that I made it sound like lǎoshī shuō 老師說 / 老师说 ("teacher says").

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Record-high operatic pitch?

Zachary Woolfe, "Hyper-High Notes", NYT 11/10/2017:

I wrote this week about the highest note in the history of the Metropolitan Opera, an A above high C currently being sung by Audrey Luna in Thomas Adès’s “The Exterminating Angel.” In my brief rundown of high-note history, I referred to the French soprano Mado Robin “shrilling” up to a high B flat; my infelicitous phrasing got called out by some Mado fans, one of whom was kind enough to send along a couple of her highlights. Recorded live, this is, my reader tells me, a French version of one of the big Miliza Korjus showpieces from the 1938 MGM musical “The Great Waltz.” Its climax takes her up to what I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) is quite a lovely sustained B flat, half a step above Ms. Luna’s achievement.

If the cited youtube clip has not been juiced, Mr. Woolfe is indeed wrong — the note in question is a (quarter tone above) a sustained B6, around 2006 Hz.

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Anaphoric ambiguity of the week

Obeying the sign:

See also "Another step towards gender equality", 8/20/2006, "Dogless in Albion", 9/12/2011, and John Wells on "carrying dogs", 3/15/2013.

[From here via Carmen Fought]

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Pitch contour perception

Listen to this brief four-syllable phrase, and answer a simple question:

once the eggs hatch

Is the end of the last sylllable ("hatch") higher or lower in pitch than the start of the first sylllable ("once")?

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A prosodic difference

In "Political sound and silence II" I noted a large difference in measures of speaking rate across the Weekly Addresses of the past three American presidents:

 N Speech
% Speech Words WPM
(excl. silence)
Bush 2008  48  8262  1976  10237 213  0.807  24483  166.9  206.9
Obama 2010  50  9840  2884  12724 254  0.773  38253  180.4  233.3
Trump 2017  14  2417  480  2898 207  0.834  7131  147.6  177.0

And in "Trends in presidential speaking rate", I showed that

… across the first few months of Weekly Addresses, President Trump is tending to talk somewhat faster as well as using a higher range of pitches.

I wondered about the causes:

This might simply reflect a choice to use more words per pause group — pre-pausal lengthening would thus be amortized over a large number of words, and similarly for phrase-final lowering. Or perhaps the distribution of words per pause group is stable, with the speaking rate and pitch range increasing for phrases of a given length. Or both. I’ll test these hypothesis another morning.

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The scansion of disapprobation expressions

In case you missed it — Ben Zimmer recently turned his meticulous scholarly attention to the lexicographical and metrical analysis of shit-gibbon: "The Surprising Rise of the 'S—gibbon'", Slate 2/9/2017.

The metrical part:

Shitgibbon has a lot going for it, with the same punchy meter as other Trumpian epithets popularized last summer like cockwomble, fucknugget, and jizztrumpet. (Metrically speaking, these words are compounds consisting of one element with a single stressed syllable and a second disyllabic element with a trochaic pattern, i.e., stressed-unstressed. As a metrical foot in poetry, the whole stressed-stressed-unstressed pattern is known as antibacchius.)

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Tunes, political and geographical

Over the past decade, I've noticed that Barack Obama's speaking style often involves short, definite-sounding phrases with steeply falling pitch. For an example, take this clip from his 2009 inaugural address:

I tried to quantify — or at least visualize — some of the temporal aspects of this pattern in "Political sound and silence", 2/8/2016, comparing Obama with G.W. Bush in terms of the distribution of speech segment and silence segment durations.

We can visualize (some aspects of) the associated pitch patterns by looking at dipole difference statistics of f0 estimates, as discussed e.g. in "More on pitch and time intervals in speech", 10/15/2016; "Carl Kasell: diabolus in musica?", 11/5/2016; "Some visualizations of prosody", 10/23/2016. This analysis yields a two-dimensional density plot, where one axis represents time differences and the other axis represents f0 differences. And a syllable-scale plot of f0 dipole difference statistics, from the whole of Obama's 2009 inaugural, does support the intuition about the preponderance of rapid local f0 falls:

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Carl Kasell: diabolus in musica?

Inspired by "Trumpchant in B flat", Joel Roston sent me a link to his 1/22/2014 post "How's Carl this time?", where he proposes that

As the excitement builds over the course of each hour-long Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! episode, Carl Kasell’s exclamation of the last two syllables of the word “Chicago,” commensurately, rises in pitch.

This is an example of Carl Kasel's performance of  the word "Chicago", in the context of the obligatory periodic station identification in the cited show:

And here are the 30 instances of "…cago" that Joel investigated — six station breaks from each of five shows:

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Debate quantification: How MAD did he get?

During the last presidential debate Donald Trump started off speaking in a deliberate and controlled manner that soon gave way to his usual animated style. In an informal exchange, Cynthia McLemore observed that he was manipulating his pitch range, as he did in the second debate as well — beginning with a narrow range that dramatically widened as the debate progressed. This post is an attempt to quantify that pitch range variation with a metric Neville Ryant and I have found useful in other work.

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