Archive for Language and music

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.

(source)

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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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Middle Eastern harps and "harp" in Eastern Central Asia

There is an abundance of ancient harps archeologically recovered from the Tarim Basin and surrounding areas.  Just in the Tarim Basin alone, there are 23 harps dating to the first millennium BC:

Yánghǎi 洋海 (east of Turpan, just south of the foothills of the Flaming Mountains at the broad, pebbly ("gobi") terrace embouchement of the Toyuq Gorge) — Uyghur Yankhi, Yanghi, Yangkhe, Yangxé. Uyghur Wikipedia has Yanqir; Turkic Yarghol (5 harps dating from 999-250 BC)

Zhāgǔnlǔkè 扎滚鲁克 (village in Toglaklik Township, Chärchän / Qiemo County) — Uyghur Zaghunluq (3 harps dating 600-300 BC)

Àisīkèxiáěr 艾斯克霞尔 (southern cemetery, along the lower reaches of the Baiyang / White Poplar River [originally a Mongolian name transcribed in Sinitic as Nàmùguōlè 纳木郭勒] in the vicinity of Qumul / Hami) — Uyghur Eskişehir, Eski Sheher ("Old City") (11 harps dating 8th-5th c. BC)

Qūmàn 曲曼 (Zankar cemetery near Tashkurgan) — Chushman (2 harps dating 6th-3rd c. BC

Yú'érgōu 鱼儿沟 (west of Turpan about a hundred miles and south of Ürümchi about a hundred miles, in Dabancheng District — modern Uyghur name is Iwirghol or Éwirghol (1 harp dating 3rd c. BC)

Chärchän / Qiemo District Museum (1 harp collected from the people)

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"Clear" and "turbid" in Chinese phonology, part 3

[Guest post by San Duanmu.  Please note that San's remarks were written before Sara de Rose's post ("part 2") on the same subject earlier this evening.]

In response to Victor’s request, I am offering some comments on qing 清 (clear) and zhuo 濁 (muddy), two commonly used terms in traditional Chinese phonology. I shall follow the outlines suggested by Victor as well.

  1. When and how did the terms arise?

According to Tang (2016: 32), the terms were used linguistically in a ten-volume book 《聲類》 (Sound Categories) by 李登 (LI Deng) during 三國時期 (Three Kingdoms period, 220-280). The book was later lost, but references to it can be found in other books that survived.

According to YU Min 俞敏, in Li Ji《禮記》 (the Book of Rites), compiled by followers of Confucius (孔子 551-479 BC), the terms were also used to discuss music, as in “长者浊也……短者清也” (long ones give a muddy sound… short ones give a clear sound). If long and short refer to the shape of an instrument, then ‘muddy’ ought to mean a lower tone and ‘clear’ a higher tone. The exact relation between the terms used in music and those in sound classification is open to interpretation.

  1. How do the terms function within traditional Chinese phonology?

In traditional Chinese phonology, qing 清 (clear) and zhuo 濁 (muddy) are used to classify consonants. In addition, each is further divided into two sub-categories. Therefore, there are four categories of consonants, shown in the table below, with samples in IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).

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"Clear" and "turbid" in Chinese phonology, part 2

[This is a guest post by Sara de Rose]

I am currently writing a paper outlining the similarities between the Mesopotamian and ancient Chinese tonal systems, which will be published in Sino-Platonic Papers.

I have a question for those of you knowledgeable in ancient Chinese music. It concerns the terms "clear" (qīng 清) and "muddy (zhuó 濁), which were discussed a few days ago on Language Log:  "'Clear' and 'turbid' in Chinese phonology" (11/29/20). Before I pose my question, here’s a quick synopsis of what is known about the Mesopotamian tonal system:

Cuneiform tablets translated since the early 1960s show that, for over a millennium, from at least 1800 BC onward, the Mesopotamians used seven diatonic modes – scales that are closely related to the Western, seven-note major scale.

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Topolects of The9

The9 is a Chinese girl group hailing from different parts of the PRC.  Here they are playing the telephone / Chinese whispers game with their own topolects*, which they refer to as fāngyán 方言, almost universally mistranslated into English as "dialect".

*See The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, q.v.

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Ask Language Log: The new Sa-Hoo?

Forwarded by Jeff DeMarco:

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Heirs to the dragon / cage

Circulating on social media:

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Pitch sequence animation

A neat animation by Jack Stratton of James Jamerson's bass line in the 1967 hit song "Ain't no mountain high enough":

The best way to watch it is full screen, in my opinon.

It would be nice to have a program that creates a similar dynamic highlighting of syllable-scale pitches and rhythms in speech, maybe based on Gentle and Drift.

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The musicality of Changsha tones

With approximately six million native speakers centered on the capital of Hunan, the province just to the south of Hubei, where the novel coronavirus has been raging for the past three months and more, Changsha topolect (Chángshā huà 長沙話) is a significant form of Sinitic:

Changsha dialect (simplified Chinese: 长沙话; traditional Chinese: 長沙話; pinyin: Chángshā-huà; Xiang: tsã˩˧ sɔ˧ ɣo˨˩) is a dialect of New Xiang Chinese. It is spoken predominantly in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. It is not mutually intelligible* with Standard Mandarin, the official language of China.

(source)

[*VHM:  I like the way they put that — "not mutually intelligible".]

I don't know if the tones of Changsha topolect are innately more musical than those of other Sinitic topolects, or indeed of varieties of speech in non-Sinitic language groups, but it seems to be a thing to represent them musically.

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Turandot and the deep Indo-European roots of "daughter"

In recent days, the famous aria from the final act of Giacomo Puccini's opera Turandot, "Nessun dorma" (Italian: [nesˌsun ˈdɔrma]; English: "Let no one sleep"), has surfaced as part of a worldwide movement to encourage the Italian people in their struggle against the novel coronavirus (see here, here, and here).  This article by Claudia Rosett gives the backstory:

"An Uplifting Moment, in the Time of Coronavirus", PJ Media (3/14/20)

This led me to ponder the origins of Turandot's name, especially since the operatic version of the story is set in China and she is alleged to be a Chinese princess.  Right away, I was in for a jolt, since "The name of the opera is based on Turan-Dokht (daughter of Turan), which is a common name used in Persian poetry for Central Asian princesses." (source)

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