Archive for Prosody

Impressive Arabic translational improvisations and impostures

Since 1979, being in a department that proudly called itself "Oriental Studies", a distinguished component of which was Arabic Studies, I had often heard of "maqama" and was quite aware that it was a virtuoso literary form:

Maqāmah (مقامة, pl. maqāmāt, مقامات, literally "assemblies") are an (originally) Arabic prosimetric literary genre which alternates the Arabic rhymed prose known as Saj‘ with intervals of poetry in which rhetorical extravagance is conspicuous.

Source

Now, a new rendering of al-Ḥarīrī's masterpiece of the genre by Michael Cooperson, titled simply Impostures, attempts to convey in English the wild exuberance of the language of the original:

"Fiction: Fifty Approaches to an Antic Arabic Masterpiece:  The Maqāmāt shows off all that Arabic can do. This translation shows off English in the same flattering light."  By Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal (June 26, 2020)

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Instant divorce

Board in front of a Hūnyīn dēngjì chù 婚姻登记处 ("marriage registration office") in Chongqing, China:


(source)

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Oral vs. written rhetoric

Megan McArdle ("Four things Democrats need to understand about beating Trump", WaPo 1/31/2020) has something important to say about the style of Donald Trump's extemporized speeches:

Trump is a good public speaker. “Nails on a chalkboard” doesn’t quite capture how educated urbanites feel about Trump’s speaking style. A closer analogy would be having your teeth drilled — without Novocain.

His fragmented sentences, simplistic formulae (see those insults above) and rambling style would drive them wild even if the content and partisan ID were more to their taste. They like “polished” candidates who speak in complete sentences that read well when written down.

Trump, by contrast, sounds like … well, actually, he sounds a lot closer to how most people talk than a “good” public speaker. He speaks in short sentences and uses a small vocabulary. He makes up names for stuff to aid listener memory. He repeats himself. He digresses at random.

Trump talks, in short, the way people talk when they aren’t expecting their words to be written down. This informal approach horrifies those of us who love reading enough to do it on weekends. But one way to think about this is that it is not so much the difference between good and bad; it is the difference between an oral culture and a written one.

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Macronic and Trumpish prosody

More clearly, the prosody of French president Emmanuel Macron and American president Donald Trump, as exhibited on one occasion, and presented in some eccentric (but I think interesting) graphics.

The occasion is the post-G7 press conference on August 26, 2019. The eccentric presentations are two-dimensional distributions of pitch differences as a function of time differences ("dipole plots"), and two-dimensional distributions of rates of pitch change and rates of amplitude change. These plots have been discussed from time to time earlier on LLOG, e.g. in "Some visualizations of prosody", 10/23/2016.

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How. Mike. Pence. Talks.

Sometimes, anyhow —

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The Voder — and "emotion"

There was an interesting story yesterday on NPR's All Things Considered, "How We Hear Our Own Voice Shapes How We See Ourselves And How Others See Us". Shankar Vedantam starts with the case of a woman whose voice was altered because her larynx was accidentally damaged during an operation, leading to a change in her personality. And then it segues into an 80-year-old crowd pleaser, the Voder:

All the way back in 1939, Homer Dudley unveiled an organ-like machine he called the "Voder". It worked using special keys and a foot pedal, and it fascinated people at the World's Fair in New York.

Helen, will you have the Voder say 'She saw me'.

She … saw … me

"That sounded awfully flat. How about a little expression? Say the sentence in answer to these questions.

Q: Who saw you?
A: SHE saw me.
Q: Whom did she see?
A: She saw ME.
Q: Well did she see you or hear you?
A: She SAW me.

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Green New Singsong

Ever since Donald Trump sang his Emergency Song ("Emergency in B Flat", 2/17/2019), I've been hearing similar intonation patterns all over the place — in a line at the market where one shopper was telling another about someone's many excuses for not meeting her; on a sports talk radio program where the host was enumerating the many inconclusive reports about Bryce Harper's destination; and this morning on Radio Times, where Robinson Meyer was telling Marty Moss-Coane about climate change politics. In that last case, I made a note of the program and the time and found the podcast — so here's the passage:

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mmhmm etc.

Kumari Devarajan, "Ready For A Linguistic Controversy? Say 'Mmhmm'", NPR 8/17/20018:

Once upon a time, English speakers didn't say "mmhmm." But Africans did, according to Robert Thompson, an art history professor at Yale University who studies Africa's influence on the Americas.

In a 2008 documentary, Thompson said the word spread from enslaved Africans into Southern black vernacular and from there into Southern white vernacular. He says white Americans used to say "yay" and "yes." […]

Ugo Nwojeki, a professor of African-American studies at the University of California, Berkeley, says he "always assumed" that the word was African. Lev Michael, a linguist at the same school, says that "doesn't seem very plausible." Roslyn Burns, a linguist at UCLA, says "it's hard to say."

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Ask Language Log: Prosodic hyphens and italics

From Alex Baumans:

Miss Cayley's Adventures, a delightful novel by Grant Allen from 1899, is about Lois Cayley, who is left penniless after her stepfather dies (actually, she gets tuppence) and sets out to make her way in the world trusting to her wits and luck. She meets an American inventor-entrepeneur who wants her to demonstrate his bicycle in the German military trials.

Why I am sending you this, is the treatment of American English. Grant Allen takes care to give his characters a recognisable voice, with lots of local colour (stereotyping them at the same time, but this is a popular nineteenth-century novel). I am no native speaker nor a specialist in historical dialects of the US, but I can't for the life of me imagine what this is supposed to have sounded like. The hyphens and italics would seem to point towards some peculiar intonation or word-stress. There are 'phonetic' spellings such as 'ketch' or 'jest', and probably some Americanisms, that I no longer recognise as such. It doesn't sound like any variety of American English I'm familiar with. 

So, I thought it might interest you to see what an American sounded like to the British a hundred years ago. Perhaps you have a better idea what this is all about.

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Metered verse in a quiet place

Graeme Orr writes:

In the hit post-apocalyptic movie A Quiet Place there is a touching scene where the mother is home-schooling her son.  He is being drilled in numeracy; but on a whiteboard she has written out the first quatrain of Shakespeare’s "Shall I Compare Thee to A Summer’s Day".  With metrical feet and accents neatly marked.

The entire conceit of the movie is that the world is overrun with bloodthirsty aliens, whose hearing is so acute that to survive one must avoid not only speech but any deliberate noise.  The family has survived, when seemingly no-one else has, because it has an eldest daughter who is deaf.  They not only can communicate (as they must to stand any chance of protection as a group) via sign language, but they are collectively acutely aware of sound, its sources and significance for everyday life.

How, if at all, is it possible to communicate meter in poetry without any sound?  I’m aware there’s an old debate about deaf poets, and the essence of poetry as image rather than music, e.g. John Lee Clark, "Melodies Unheard", 10/30/2005.  In the film, the poem-on-whiteboard is shown twice, in letters so large the audience is deliberately drawn to it.   The tease is surely something more than just ‘Shakespeare, like cockroaches, will survive any apocalypse’.

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PVC 1

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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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