COMMENTS AND DISCUSSION OF YouTube clips
From Alison Eales 2011-05-13
My responses are in this colour
A fascinating video, which I really should have known better than to watch at 2am. :)
In a previous life I studied linguistics and am obsessed with the relationships between music and words. I'm going to have to make multiple comments here so bear with me.
1: As I understand it, we can get an idea of Old English prosody from its morphology - lots of short words with weakly-stressed inflections suggest a DUM-da DUM-da rhythm (like modern Icelandic). English kept that basic metre even after it lost its inflections - think 'Sumer is icumen in'. I don't know enough about celtic prosody to know whether it was very different from Old English, but I doubt its influence was profound. After all, 'wealas' is used to mean 'slaves' as well as 'foreigners'.
1a. Stressing a syllable or note is just as much a matter of dynamic accent (volume, attack) as it is of length (duration), i.e. It can't be expressed in terms of DUM and DA. You need musical notation or something else showing the relative duration and accentuation pattern in question.
1b. Wealas may mean slaves as well as foreigners, but slave- or ex-slave populations can influence a hegemonic language as much as any other group.Check out Brazilian Portuguese (você, etc.) and vernacular speech habits in the USA (cool, bad, wicked, jazz, rag, rocking and rolling, boogie, hit it, etc.).
2: I wonder whether the snap in English has more to do with double letters? I can imagine that OE words like 'þonne' and 'middangeard' might have been said with a snap. Perhaps 'lytlan' (c1000) had a DUM-da rhythm, while 'luttel' (c1290) was closer to the snappy present-day 'little'. Or might it have something to do with loss of final -e in Middle English period and the effect that had on vowel lengths?
2. In modern Swedish and Norwegian double letters are the scribal sign of the relevant consonant lasting longer than if it was single. When the consonant isn't a fricative or liquid there is a hiatus in speech equivalent to the duration of at least one consonant. In this way each syllable in klocka (Swedish) and klokke (Norwegian) (=clock, time) occupies in toto the same amount of time as kloka and kloke respectively (=wise (adj.) in def. and pl. forms). This means that double consonants don't necessarily represent change in the lengths of syllables (notes); of vowels, yes, in some cases; but of syllables, not necessarily.
3: I love that version of Van Diemen's Land. It's interesting that the word 'Warwick' is snapped in the first verse and not in the second - so while the musical snap might be derived from spoken language, by this point the words are subject to the demands of the music.
3. This didn't surprise me because a melody's rhythmic profile can often override the speech rhythm f the words set to it.
It also occurs to me that snap and twang are very banjo (banjar?)- friendly sounds (hammering on, bending strings), so there's perhaps an onomatopoeic relationship between the instrument and the voice of its player. Absolutely, but if I'd started dealing with that too I'd've never finished the video.