Archive for Language and music

Vowel systems and musical sounds

[This is a guest post by H. Krishnapriyan]

Would you know of any ready reference that talks about vowels not getting articulated in specific places in the mouth, but rather being part of a system of vowels where the sound value of a vowel is determined by the vowel's relative position of articulation with respect to other vowels? I recall reading about this decades back, most likely, in a book by Henry Sweet.

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"Keereezmy"; "Kill his mind"

As I explained here in February of this year:

One time on an expedition around the western part of the Taklamakan Desert in the center of Asia more than a decade ago, the Chinese driver played Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" scores of times.  He had other discs, but he only played that song, and he played it over and over and over again.  I liked it the first 10-15 times I heard it, but after that it started to drive me insane, and finally I had to tell him to stop. He was not happy.  Then, a few hours later or the next day, he would launch the Lady Gaga "Poker Face" litany all over again.

(slightly modified)

There was one phrase that Lady Gaga repeated more than a dozen times (actually twenty), and I had no idea what she was saying.  I listened as hard as I could, but the best I could make out was "Keereezmy, keereezmy", though sometimes I thought it was "Kill his mind, kill his mind". 

Since that time, I've probably heard the same song another thirty or forty times, and the line in question still sounds like "Keereezmy, keereezmy" or "Kill his mind, kill his mind".

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I'm not the first person to use that word, but I probably mean it in a distinctive way.  What I'm talking about is not the usual sort of earworm / öhrwurm [recte ohrwurm] that gets stuck in your brain and you just can't make it go away.  That's the usual kind, and I get it fairly often, maybe once a week or so.  The attack I had this morning was more diabolical.

It seemed that every song I heard on the radio immediately became an earworm — including music without words.  After one song was embedded in my consciousness, the next one I heard would also intrude, until they all became a jumble.

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Hurrian hymn from Ugarit, Canaan in northern Syria, 1400 BC

"The Oldest (Known) Song of All Time"

Includes spectrograms of different reconstructions.

Although this YouTube was made three years ago, I am calling it to the attention of Language Log readers now that I know about it because it draws together many themes we have discussed in previous posts.

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Competing chatbots

Competition among various AI services will spur them to further heights.

ChatGPT, Bing, Bard and DeepL: Which one offers the best Japanese-to-English translation?

by Karin Kaneko, Japan Times (7/18/23)

Kaneko, working with her editors at Japan Times, devised an ingenious test for comparing the quality of several translation tools in different categories of writing.  Since this experiment is so innately interesting and inherently revelatory, I will provide extensive quotations, adding romanization of the Japanese passages from GT (not an easy task for me!).  To be fair to GT, and simply out of curiosity to see how it compares with the newer type of AI translation services, I will also invite GT to translate all three of the chosen passages.  N.B.:  All three of the GT English translations have been added by me.

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The etiology of a self-inflicted earworm

I am prone / prey to earworms.  Sometimes when I'm seriously affected / infected by one, it takes me weeks to get rid of the scourge, and I have to resort to all sorts of devices and deceptions to disinfect them from the space between my ears and the auditory cortex inside the lateral sulcus of the temporal lobe).  (N.B.:  I realize that there is at least one person on this list who detests slashes, but I find them useful for conveying a range of related meanings, among many other applications). 

Unfortunately, in certain cases all it takes is to hear the name of or a line from an infectious song to trigger the ear worm, e.g., "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club (for about the first hundred times I heard this song, I thought Boy George was saying "cama-cama-cama chameleon" and I had no idea what it meant [I thought it was just ladi-ladi-ladi-da sounds like Janis Joplin in "Me and Bobby McGee"] (uh-oh, just entered a danger zone by saying that).  And now practically every time I turn on the radio, I hear Taylor Swift's "Karma", so I quickly get into double earworm territory.

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This picture troubled me:


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Victorious Secret

The next event in the Salon Sanctuary concert series is "Victorious Secret: Love Gamed and Gender Untamed in the Sparkling Courts of the Baroque":

Before the bars of gender binaries caged the mainstream operatic imagination, a golden age of fluidity guided the vocal soundscape. Virility declared itself with the castrato’s clarion high notes, while femininity spoke in earthy tessiture that plunged to shimmering depths.

Texts of the period revel in ambiguity, unfurling genderless narratives of anonymous lovers and unnamed beloveds. Stories of active pursuit and passive reverie remain alike at loose ends, with neat resolutions many movements away.

Please join us for this special program in honor of Pride Month, as the music of the past reveals a golden underground of nonbinary riches, accompanying us in our witness to a new Renaissance.

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Just < Not the same as it was

I listened to this Harry Styles song dozens of times on the radio, and every time I heard him sing "You know it's just the same as it was" over and over:

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On the difficulty of saying what a word is

Sophie MacDonald asks:

I have been an on-and-off reader of Language Log for several years, and have always enjoyed your contributions, though I’m not a linguist. I do work on formal language theory sometimes, but very much within mathematics and computer science, not linguistics.

Recently, a music theorist colleague asked me for help with a question. She is engaging with the body of literature that applies linguistic ideas and methods to the study of music, and she is in particular working with the idea that it is hard to give a definition of a chord or a melodic phrase that actually makes sense within musical practice. She was asking for linguistic sources indicating the difficulty of saying what a word is, which might be useful for the point she is making.

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"Happy Birthday" melody formed from tones

A PRC graduate student in Chinese literature at Indiana University sent along this clever arrangement of "Happy Birthday":

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"Mirrors" composer rejects Richard Feelgood and Donald Trump

Jon Jackson, "Writer Behind Trump's Rally Music Wants to Distance Himself From QAnon", Newsweek 9/20/2022:

Former President Donald Trump on Saturday appeared at an Ohio rally for J.D. Vance, a Republican nominee for Senate. Afterward, Trump received much attention for what many people have claimed was a QAnon element to his appearance.

When Trump took to the stage, people in attendance felt they recognized his entrance music. Many in the crowd raised a one-finger salute as a reference to the QAnon conspiracy theory. They did so because the song they heard sounded nearly identical to QAnon's unofficial theme song, "Wwg1wga," which stands for the QAnon slogan, "Where we go one, we go all." (Although the index finger salute is used by QAnon, some people have claimed its use is also a reference to the "America First" slogan.)

Aides for Trump have denied to multiple media outlets that the song played last weekend was "Wwg1wga." Instead, they identified the tune that the former president used at the rally as a royalty-free track called "Mirrors," written by composer Will Van De Crommert.

However, Van De Crommert wrote to Newsweek that he did not authorize the use of "Mirrors" for Trump. He also emphasized he wasn't happy about his music being associated with QAnon.

"I do not support Donald Trump, and I do not support or espouse the beliefs of QAnon," Van De Crommert said.

That "Mirrors" was mistaken for "Wwg1wga" is understandable. When De Crommert's song is played to the music-identifying service Shazam, the result given back is "Wwg1wga," which is credited to an artist who goes by Richard Feelgood.

"Richard Feelgood's claim on the song 'Mirrors' (retitled 'Wwg1wga') is patently false. The recordings of 'Wwg1wga' and 'Mirrors' are identical, and the master was unlawfully retitled, repackaged, and redistributed to streaming platforms by Richard Feelgood," Van De Crommert said.

He added, "I am not Richard Feelgood, I do not represent Richard Feelgood, and Richard Feelgood is not a pseudonym that I have ever or will ever employ."

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