Archive for Language and music

Tang (618-907) poetry in Min pronunciation, part 2

This is a supplement to "Tang (618-907) poetry in Min pronunciation" (10/14/21).  The following remarks are by Conal Boyce:

So far it seems the artist’s viewpoint is missing from the discussion. At the top of the thread, Victor Mair mentions two musical compositions of mine, and also kindly cites my unpublished Ph.D. dissertation in References. But the music and the thesis (both of 1973-1976 vintage) are almost wholly unrelated. (What is related tangentially to my compositions from that period is my paper called ‘Min sandhi in verse recitation,’ Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 1980, 8:1-14.) What do I mean by ‘the artist’s viewpoint’? My main task during 1973-1976 in Taiwan was to finish writing my dissertation on the rhythms used by my informants in their recitation of Sòngcí ([VHM:  Sòng lyric meters] sometimes in MSM, sometimes in Min) — nothing to do with music per se (except the abstract connection through ‘rhythm’).

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Towards a grammar of rhythm

Hassan Munshi has been working on text setting in Arabic music. An important piece of the problem is how to represent the musical rhythms involved, and it's worth noting that (as with classical Greek, Latin, and Persian meters) the musical and poetic meters are founded on the same principles and have the same names. Hassan pointed me to an overview at MaqamWorld, which explains "Arabic Rhythmic Cycles":

Arabic music is composed over rhythmic cycles called iqa‘at (singular iqa‘), which are patterns of beats that repeat every measure. A composition can switch back and forth between many different iqa‘at. Each iqa‘ is defined using a prototypal measure and the two basic sounds: dum (bassy and sustained) and tak (dry and sharp).

The notated iqa‘ is meant to be a skeleton or a prototype for how to perform it. In practice, percussionists ornament an iqa‘ (flesh it out) with additional beats: dum-s, tak-s and whatever other sounds the instrument is able to produce. That ornamentation depends a lot on the genre of Arabic music, the desired arrangement aesthetic, the instrument itself, the size of the rhythm section, and on the percussionist’s personal style.

For each iqa', MaqsumWorld provides a notation of the basic pattern, some musical examples, and a "tabla demonstration" in which a drummer illustrates the process of "ornamentation". For Iqa' Maqsum, this is the basic pattern:

And this is the tabla demonstration by Faisal Zedan:

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Your Pinky Heart

Phenomenally viral song by the Malaysian hip-hop artist, Namewee, "It might Break Your Pinky Heart. Namewee 黃明志 Ft.Kimberley Chen 陳芳語【Fragile 玻璃心】@鬼才做音樂 2021 Ghosician" — premiered on 10/15/21, and it already has nearly 9,000,000 views:

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Tang (618-907) poetry in Min pronunciation

Usually, though not always, when I Romanize Sinographs on Language Log, I do so using Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), but that is misleading, because MSM is only one of countless different topolectal pronunciations that could be used (Cantonese, Shanghainese, Sichuanese, and so on and so forth).  MSM is particularly ill-suited for the Romanization of pre-modern literature, since — of all topolects — it is the most highly evolved (ergo youngest) and least like earlier stages of Sinitic.  In this post, I will use Southern Min pronunciation to give a sense of how different it is from MSM.

The Min Romanizations have been prepared by Conal Boyce using a Yale-like system he developed in 1975 in preference to Douglas-Campbell.

Douglas, Carstairs (1899) [1873]. Chinese-English Dictionary of the Vernacular or Spoken Language of Amoy (2nd ed.). London: Presbyterian Church of England.

 Campbell, W. (1913). A Dictionary of the Amoy Vernacular. Tainan: Ho Tai Tong.

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New expressions for karaoke: the phoneticization of Chinese

My first acquaintance with the word "karaoke" was back in the 1980s, when I was visiting my brother Denis, who was then a translator for Foreign Languages Press in Beijing.  He lived in the old Russian-built Friendship Hotel, a very spartan place compared to today's luxury accommodations in big Chinese cities. There wasn't much unusual, interesting, or attractive about the place (though they had bidets in the bathrooms, as did many other Russian style accommodations in China at that time), but I was deeply intrigued by a small sign at the back of one of the buildings that led to a basement room. On it was written "kǎlā OK 卡拉OK". The best I could make of that novel expression was "card pull OK," and I thought that it might have something to do with documentation. I asked all my Chinese scholar friends what this mysterious sign meant, but not one of them knew (remember that this was back in the mid-80s). It was only when I returned to the United States that I realized kǎlā OK 卡拉OK was the Chinese transcription for Japanese karaoke. It took a lot more time and effort before I figured out that karaoke is the abbreviated Japanese translation-transliteration of English "empty orchestra," viz., kara (空) "empty" and ōkesutora (オーケストラ). When I reported this to my Chinese linguist friends (Zhou Youguang, Yin Binyong, and others) back in Beijing the next year, they were absolutely flabbergasted. They had been convinced that the OK was simply the English term meaning "all right," but they had no idea what to make of the kǎlā portion.

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"Classic Female Poison Earplugs" — Ask Language Log

Image and query from Hans Oddvar Vannes:

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Earworm of the week: Me and Bobby McGee

Here it is, by the great, the inimitable, the one and only Janis Joplin:

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Hatred in model operas

From blood and gore to hatred.

In China, revolutionary operas or model operas (Chinese: yangban xi, 样板戏) were a series of shows planned and engineered during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) by Jiang Qing, the wife of Chairman Mao Zedong. They were considered revolutionary and modern in terms of thematic and musical features when compared with traditional Chinese operas. Many of them were adapted to film.

Originally, eight revolutionary operas (Chinese: Ba Ge Yangban Xi, 八个样板戏) were produced, eighteen by the end of the period. Instead of the "emperors, kings, generals, chancellors, maidens, and beauties" of the traditional Peking opera, which was banned as "feudalistic and bourgeois," they told stories from China's recent revolutionary struggles against foreign and class enemies. They glorified the People's Liberation Army and the bravery of the common people, and showed Mao Zedong and his thought as playing the central role in the victory of socialism in China. Although they originated as operas, they soon appeared on LPs, in comic books (lianhuanhua), on posters, postcards, and stamps; on plates, teapots, wash basins, cigarette packages, vases, and calendars. They were performed or played from loudspeakers in schools, factories, and fields by special performing troupes. The Eight Model Operas dominated the stage in all parts of the country during these years, leading to the joke "Eight hundred million people watched eight shows."

(source)

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Operatic rhetoric

YouTube has created a new musical opportunity — musical accompaniment for recorded spontaneous orations, as a kind of after-the-fact sprechgesang.

I'm not sure who did this first, or when, but I've seen it more often over the past few months. Here's one of my favorites:


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Prehistoric notation systems in Peru, with Chinese parallels

This morning, by chance, I learned about the great urban center of Caral in Peru, 120 miles north of Lima.  It was occupied between ca. 26th century BC and 20th century BC and had more than 3,000 inhabitants.  It was said to be the oldest urban center in the Americas and the largest for the 3rd millennium BC.  Caral had many impressive architectural structures, including temples, an amphitheater, and pyramids that predate the Egyptian pyramids by approximately a century.

What attracted my attention the most, however, is this:

Among the artifacts found at Caral is a knotted textile piece that the excavators have labelled a quipu. They write that the artifact is evidence that the quipu record keeping system, a method involving knots tied in textiles that was brought to its highest development by the Inca Empire, was older than any archaeologist previously had determined. Evidence has emerged that the quipu also may have recorded logographic information in the same way writing does. Gary Urton has suggested that the quipus used a binary system that could record phonological or logographic data.

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Colloquial Cantonese and Taiwanese as mélange languages

Charles Belov writes:

My understanding was that Hong Kong newspapers, newscasts, and popular Cantonese songs use literary Chinese exclusively while Hong Kong star magazines and Cantonese hip-hop (e.g., LMF, Softhard) use colloquial Cantonese exclusively. But today as I was walking along, an old Beyond song, 俾面派对, was earworming me and it suddenly hit me that, unlike most Cantonese songs, and like Cantonese hip-hop, which it isn't, it includes colloquial Cantonese, specifically 唔 and 佢 (and, as it turns out, "D").

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Glossing English with Sinograms

For more than five decades, Orville Schell has been one of our leading China expositors.  Having authored or co-authored a dozen books on Chinese affairs, he now turns his hand to a fictional biography with My Old Home:  A Novel of Exile (Penguin Random House, 2021).  Blurb from the publisher:

A uniquely experienced observer of China gives us a sweeping historical novel that takes us on a journey from the rise of Mao Zedong in 1949 to the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989, as a father and his son are swept away by a relentless series of devastating events.
 
It’s 1950, and pianist Li Tongshu is one of the few Chinese to have graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Engaged to a Chinese-American violinist who is the daughter of a missionary father and a Shanghai-born mother, Li Tongshu is drawn not just by Mao’s grand promise to “build a new China” but also by the enthusiasm of many other Chinese artists and scientists living abroad, who take hope in Mao’s promise of a rejuvenated China. And so when the recently established Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing offers Li Tongshu a teaching position, he leaves San Francisco and returns home with his new wife.
 
But instead of being allowed to teach, Li Tongshu is plunged into Mao’s manic revolution, which becomes deeply distrustful of his Western education and his American wife. It’s not long before his son, Little Li, also gets caught up in the maelstrom of political and ideological upheaval that ends up not only savaging the Li family but, ultimately, destroying the essential fabric of Chinese society.

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Mongolian museum mystery

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