Archive for Language and music

K-pop English

[This is a guest post by Alex Baumans]

I've been following the Kpop scene for a bit, and I noticed that there is a special flavour of English being used on websites and the like. This is different from the English being used in the songs themselves, which is also worthy of study. In the major websites (Koreaboo, Allkpop…) the English is basically OK. However, there are obviously specific Korean terms (oppa, maknae, aegyo), and English words that are used in a specific Kpop sense (visual, bias, schedule, stage…). This makes this English slightly strange, though not actually weird.

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The shawm and its eastern cousins

I have long been intrigued by the Chinese instrument called suǒnà 嗩吶 (double-reeded horn).  Because of the sound and shape of the name, and the fact that the characters used to write it both have mouth radicals, indicating that they are being used to convey pronunciation rather than meaning, I have always suspected that suǒnà 嗩吶 was the transcription of a foreign word.  This suspicion was underscored by the time (medieval period) and direction (from the Western Regions [as attested in wall paintings and plastic art]) that it entered the panoply of Chinese musical instruments.  There are at least half a dozen different combinations of various characters for transcribing the sound of this word (see Hànyǔ dà cídiǎn 漢語大詞典 [Unabridged Dictionary of Sinitic], 3.461b]).

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Transcendent Tonality

Since both consist of carefully managed and skillfully manipulated sound, music and language blend into each other.  This is most evident in song, of course, where language and tonality exist simultaneously.  But sometimes the human voice is treated as an instrument, and language recedes into the background.  On the other hand, something else human that is more ostensibly musical, namely whistling, can be used for the communication of ideas and information, tasks that are usually reserved for language.  See the great Wikipedia article on "Whistled language" and the masterful Wikipedia article on "Transcendental whistling", also this YouTube video:

"Whistled language of the island of La Gomera (Canary Islands), the Silbo Gomero". (10:20)

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Vocal gymnastics

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Musical discourse

Debating Vivaldi (and others), by Salut Salon:

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"Arirang" (Hangul:  아리랑) is arguably the most famous Korean folk song.  Indeed, "Arirang" is so well-known that it is often considered to be Korea's unofficial national anthem.  Yet no one is sure when the song arose nor what the title means.

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All the lonely Starbucks lovers

Melissa Dahl, "Why You Keep Mishearing That Taylor Swift Lyric", New York Magazine 11/24/2014:

There is a line in the newest Taylor Swift single “Blank Space” that I always, always hear wrong: Where Swift sings Got a long list of ex-lovers, for some reason I mishear, All the lonely Starbucks lovers. This makes no sense, but my brain persists in the misinterpretation, and apparently I’m not the only one. Over on Lainey Gossip today, Lainey herself writes:

At this point I think she should just change the name of the song to Lonely Starbucks Lovers. Yes, I can read the lyrics. But all I HEAR is “Lonely Starbucks Lovers”. And reading your emails and tweets, it seems you are the same.

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The chick(en) says ko-ko-de(k)

In Incredible Things, Brittany High has a very brief article entitled "This Chinese Music Video Is Every Kind Of WTF".  I think that, if you watch the video, you'll agree with her.

Brittany writes:

This is a batshit insane music video for the song “Chick Chick” by Chinese pop group Wang Rong Rollin. It makes stuff like “What Does The Fox Say?” seem absolutely tame. I don’t know what the hell I just watched but I’ll have whatever they’re having.

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Jazz Dispute

Just in case you haven't seen this:

[h/t Taylor Jones]

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"Cantonese" song

This hauntingly beautiful song is the unofficial anthem of the Hong Kong democracy protest movement:

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Overtone singing

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Baby blues

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"Spastic" and a different kind of "word crime"

Weird Al Yankovic's new song "Word Crimes" has generated a lot of heated discussion among linguists and other descriptivist types who didn't take kindly to its litany of language peeves — satire or no satire. (See my original post and Lauren Squires' guest post for extended commentary.) But in detailing various "word crimes," Weird Al managed to commit a linguistic foul of his own. And no, I'm not talking about the split infinitive at the end of the song ("Try your best to not drool"). Weird Al assured his Twitter followers that the line was an intentional bit of trolling:

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