Archive for Prosody

Meter, Feelings, Knowing: An Interview with Nigel Fabb

This guest post by Mark Dow is an excerpt from an interview conducted via email in May/June 2021. The complete interview appears in PN Review #263 (Jan./Feb. 2022).

 Nigel Fabb is Professor of Literary Linguistics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. His books include What is Poetry: Language and Memory in the Poems of the World (Cambridge 2015); with Morris Halle, Meter in Poetry: a New Theory (Cambridge 2008); Language and literary structure: the linguistic analysis of form in verse and narrative (Cambridge 2002); and Linguistics and Literature (Blackwell 1997). In 2022 he will have two new books, Thrills, epiphany, sublime: how literature surprises us. (Anthem) and with Venla Sykäri (eds.) Rhyme and Rhyming in Verbal Art, Song and Language (Studia Fennica Folkloristica).

Mark Dow is author of Plain Talk Rising (poems) and American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons (California).

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Good translation is an art: Bēowulf

As a published translator myself, I certainly strive to make my translations worthy of being considered as art.  But it isn't always an easy task.  Witness "The Tricky Art of Translation and Maria Dahvana Headley’s Modern Beowulf", CD Covington, Tor.com (Mon Feb 7, 2022):

It’s not very often that a thousand-year-old poem has a new translation that gets people hyped up, at least in the Anglophone world, but Maria Dahvana Headley’s recent Hugo Award-winning translation of Beowulf stirred up a lot of interest—there’s even a video series of writers and entertainers reading it out loud. (Alan Cumming’s section is excellent—he really knows his way around alliterative verse.)

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More "I don't know"

We're following up on "Dinosaur Intonation" (8/28/2021) and "Hummed 'I don't know'" (8/29/2021). And today's installment starts with a distinction. There are two largely separate issues:

  1. Intonational choices (for performances of "I don't know" or any other phrase).
  2. Various types of articulatory reduction or replacement,
    from crisp hyper-articulated performances,
    through progressively slurred versions,
    to hums, grunts, or even whistled or instrumental imitations.

Homer Simpson's version, from this YouTube clip, lenites the consonants pretty much to extinction, and reduces the second ("don't") vowel as well, going beyond Michael Watt's comment about a friend who spelled it "iono":

[The numbers in black are f0 estimates in Hertz (cycles per second)]

But today we're going to focus on the intonational choices, rather than the words-to-hum continuum. And the method will be socratic — we'll give examples, and ask questions. The answers will emerge in later installments, or perhaps in the comments.

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Vulgar village vernacular

This Chinese article is about a man who has made a living by painting slogans and ads on village walls for thirty years. Some of the slogans are rather bizarre, as may be seen by looking at the many photographs in the article.

The article says it is such a well-paying job that the man was able to buy 6 apartments in his hometown with his earnings. Painting on walls is one of the major ways to advertise or propagate goods and ideas in the countryside.

There are many examples of such signs in the article, but I couldn't understand all of them upon first glance, so I wondered if the country folk would be able to read the signs. I asked a number of my graduate students from China, and they all said, yes, the country folk not only would be able to read them, but would enjoy them and would be motivated to buy the products and services promoted by the signs.

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Intonation in "human emulation mode"

Dave Itzkoff, "Elon Musk Hosts a Mother’s Day Episode of ‘Saturday Night Live’", NYT 5/9/2012 ("The much-discussed Tesla and SpaceX executive took a self-deprecating approach, telling viewers, 'I’m pretty good at running human in emulation mode.'"):

Musk, the billionaire chief executive of Tesla and founder of SpaceX, appeared in several “S.N.L.” sketches this weekend, playing characters that included a doctor at a hospital that caters to Generation Z patients, the producer of an Icelandic TV talk show and the video game villain Wario.

He used his opening monologue to share some personal details about himself, introducing viewers to his mother and discussing his diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome —  […]

Musk took a self-deprecating tone in his “S.N.L.” monologue, telling the audience: “Sometimes, after I say something, I have to say, ‘I mean that,’ so people really know that I mean it. That’s because I don’t always have a lot of intonational variation in how I speak. Which I’m told makes for great comedy.”

The question of intonational variation in the speech of people on the autism spectrum is an interesting one. In the literature and in clinical presentations, I've seen phrases like "As is well known, autistic individuals have monotone intonation", and also "As is well known, autistic individuals have singsong intonation".

This apparently reflects the fact that most observers of intonation only notice differences between what they expect and how people talk. So depending on  their relationship to the speakers and the contents and contexts of interaction, they might perceive the same speakers' intonation as inappropriately monotone or inappropriately varied. There may also be relevant subgroups within the large and extremely varied space of people "on the spectrum" — autism is one of the many DSM-defined behavioral categories that are "phenotypically diverse", which a clinician friend explains is the Greek translation of "We have no f-ing clue"…

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Wanna, gotta

From Doonesbury 5/2/2021:

Linguists have paid a lot of attention over the years to  wanna-contraction, starting with George Lakoff's 1970 paper "Global rules" — see these lecture notes for a discussion, if you're interested. But gotta-contraction has gotten a lot less attention — 7 Google scholar hits vs. 658.

The reason for this difference is simple: "want to" is occurs in different structures that have different contraction frequencies, thus entangling syntax, morphology and phonology in a pattern that people have been trying since 1970 to figure out how to untangle. "Got to" seems to occur in the same structures, but these turn out to involve quite different senses of get, which maybe even should be considered different words.

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"Believe (that) PNP"

Following up on yesterday's "'Guess that'", this morning I looked at whether "speakers use the unstressed optional complementiser that to maximise rhythmic alternation of weak and strong syllables" in the case of complements following the verb believe. I again used data from Shuang Li's INTERVIEW: NPR Media Dialog Transcripts dataset.

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"Guess that"

One of the benefits of checking linguistic hypotheses in real-world data is that you sometimes stumble on unexpected and potentially interesting patterns. This morning's Breakfast Experiment™ provides an example.

Yesterday, as I prepared for a seminar on prosody and syntax, the following passage caught my eye (in Gerrit Kentner and Isabelle Franz, "No evidence for prosodic effects on the syntactic encoding of complement clauses in German", Glossa 2019):

A language production experiment by Lee & Gibbons (2007) suggests that speakers use the unstressed optional complementiser that to maximise rhythmic alternation of weak and strong syllables, as it is more often produced when the top of the complement clause starts in a stressed (Lucy) as opposed to unstressed (Louise) syllable (1).

(1) Ian guessed (that) {Louise, Lucy} signed the contract

Since Kentner and Franz found a contrary result in their experiment, I thought I'd see whether the effect that Lee & Gibbons found was replicated in a more natural dataset. So I turned to Shuang Li's INTERVIEW: NPR Media Dialog Transcripts dataset, which contains 3,199,859 transcribed turns.

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Again, however

Looking through the Penn Parsed Corpus of Modern British English (PPCMBE2), I saw that one of its sources is Chapter 10 of Volume 2 of Jane Austen's Emma. I've been using seven or eight different audiobook versions of that novel as a source of examples and exercises in ling521 over the past few years, so I thought I'd take a look at the relationship between syntactic structure and performance prosody in that chapter.

Listening to the second sentence raises some interesting questions:

Busy as he was, however, the young man was yet able to shew a most happy countenance on seeing Emma again. [source]

Details aside, it seems clear that in this sentence

  • "however" is a kind of prosodic tag;
  • "however" is prosodically bound to the phrase that precedes it.

Thereby, however, hangs a tale or two.

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Kamala Harris and the Prosody of Parody

I’ve been working on a description of Kamala Harris’ distinctive prosody for a while now, so when I saw Maya Rudolph’s parody of Harris’ victory speech on SNL last Saturday (which happened less than 3 hours after the original!), I wondered if it might shed more light on what’s happening with Harris herself.

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IRCS Prosody Workshop 1992: Undoing bit rot

Recently, Antônio Simões wrote to Cynthia McLemore to ask about a 28-year-old proceedings:

I used to find on the internet the Proceedings from 1992 that you edited with Mark Liberman. I tried to find them, but they are not on the internet anymore. Do you still have that volume in pdf? Or is it accessible somewhere on the internet? This is the volume:

McLemore, Cynthia, and Mark Liberman, eds. 1992. Proceedings of the IRCS Workshop on Prosody in Natural Speech. IRCS Report No. 92-37.

"IRCS" stands for "Institute for Research in Cognitive Science", an NSF research center founded in 1990 by Lila Gleitman and Aravind Joshi. IRCS  died in 2016 after a lingering siege of academic politics, and its website seems to have been purged last year. Penn's library has some IRCS technical reports in its repository, but not the one that Antônio is looking for. Many others are clearly missing, along with event recordings and so on — I'll see whether there are backups somewhere from which things can be restored.

Meanwhile, Cindie found a paper copy of the requested proceedings, and this page provides a table of contents with links and abstracts for scanned versions of the 26 papers it contains. Most of them are still interesting and relevant today!

 

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2020 punctuation/prosody

Seen on the internet:

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When intonation overrides tone, part 4

Some folks think that intonation never overrides tones, but I'm convinced on the basis of empirical evidence that it does.

For example:

Nǐ xiǎng gàn hā 你想干哈 –> Nǐ xiǎng gàn há 你想干哈 ("what do you want to do?") — especially in the Northeast.

Here are some other examples — all of them provided by native speakers of MSM (Modern Standard Mandarin):

A.
 
1. 不( bù ["no"]):Sometimes, I would say  不 ( bú) even though there is no falling tone character after  不 to invoke tone sandhi, such as "我不  ( bú)". This happens when somebody asks me to do something I don't like, I will say 不 ( bú) to express my rejection. 
 
2.中间 (zhōngjiān ["in; among; between; amidst"]): Sometimes, I would say 中间 (zhōngjiàn)to emphasize the place.  I think most people will commonly pronounce this phrase as  中间 (zhōngjiàn), but it is "wrong". 
 
3. 都 (dōu ["all"]):   I will pronounce this character as dóu when I want to emphasize the meaning "all." For example, 我都  (dóu) 写完了 I finish them all, 他都 (dóu) 吃完了,he ate them all. But here, I am thinking about whether I am influenced by 东北 Northeastern / dongbei topolect because I think dongbei people will commonly use the pronunciation dóu .

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