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126 posts categorized "Accents & dialects"

13 January 2020

Recording of the week: Pinglish code-switching

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

Hot Chapati
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Adam Cohn

Many bilingual speakers demonstrate a fascinating tendency to code-switch – that is they alternate between different languages as circumstance dictates, generally subconsciously and often within the same utterance.

Listen to Code Switching (BL reference C1442/1578)

Listen to this young British Asian female from Leeds describe her use of gunnhnā [= ‘to knead’], āttā [= ‘flour’], seknā [= ‘to toast’] and rotī [= ‘chapati’]. What is particularly interesting is the way she instinctively applies English grammar to Punjabi words by, for instance, adding the conventional English plural suffix <-s> to form rotīs, the regular past tense suffix <-ed> to create gunned and a more typically English sounding infinitive form sek: “I’ve gunned the āttā and I’ll sek the rotīs later”.

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20 December 2019

British Library Sports Word Of The Year 2019

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Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

This year marks the sixth annual British Library Sports Word of the Year (SWOTY) review. While I can’t claim it’s a major fixture on the annual awards circuit, six does, at least, have some sporting significance: six games in a tennis set; six pockets on a snooker table; and six cricket balls in an over (well until next year’s Hundred, that is). This annual review takes its inspiration from the BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) and various Word of the Year nominations. Firstly, then, congratulations to Ben Stokes for winning SPOTY 2019, and to the equally magnificent Dina Asher-Smith for running him close (actually if they’d had to race there might well have been a different outcome!); and to they and climate emergency for emerging as Word(s) of the Year according to Merriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries respectively.

And so to the ten candidates for SWOTY 2019, selected from a personal scrapbook of words and phrases that caught my attention on broadcast and social media platforms and in the mainstream press during the last twelve months:

January (Marina Hyde reflecting on the European PGA decision to stage a prestigious golf tournament in Saudi Arabia, Guardian Sport): Understanding the wider issue of sportswashing ought not be beyond your ken, either.

ScrapbookApril (Tanya Aldred previewing the 2019 county cricket season, Guardian Sport): If you thought the tension of Dom Bess’s heave at Ciderabad last September couldn’t be beaten, just watch and wait.

May (Richard Barnes reviewing Tottenham Hotspur’s 2018-19 season, Guardian Sport): Biggest surprise: our ability to find a way in the Champions League against the odds. Very unSpursy.

June (Vic Marks reporting on England versus Afghanistan at ICC Cricket World Cup, Guardian Sport): This made it the six-iest match in World Cup history.

July (Athar Ali Khan analysing bar chart of England’s runs per over versus Bangladesh at ICC Cricket World Cup, Sky Sports): Look at those big overs in the middle Manhattans.

August (Phil Tufnell reflecting on fading light during England versus Australia Lord’s Test, BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra): It’s getting a bit Noah’s out here.

September (Paul Farbrace describing outgoing England coach Trevor Bayliss, BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra): He absolutely loves the game ... he's a cricket nuffy.

September (Jamie Jackson describing James Maddison’s performance for Leicester City against Manchester United, Guardian Sport): Maddison could be spied in the classic trequartista position.

October (Sean Ingle quoting Daryll Neita’s assessment of World Athletics 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith, Guardian Sport): She’s a G. You are doing bits, darling.

November (Gerard Meagher quoting Siya Kolisi’s comments on the impact of South Africa’s triumph at IRB Rugby World Cup, Guardian Sport): We appreciate all the support – people in the taverns, in the shebeens, farms, homeless people and people in the rural areas.

This year’s list namechecks five sports with one entry each for golf, athletics and rugby union; two for football; and five for cricket. The dominance of cricket can probably be attributed to England’s triumphant World Cup on home soil and to the fact it represents an extremely rich source of innovative and specialist terminology. As ever, the selection illustrates a range of linguistic phenomena and encompasses dialect, slang and jargon; it includes a loan word; and, for the first time, examples of the potential of morphological creativity. Of the ten nominations, seven straddle the blurred lines between sporting jargon (i.e. specialised vocabulary), dialect (i.e. localised variants) and slang (i.e. informal forms): sportswashing, Ciderabad, unSpursy, six-iest, Manhattan, nuffy and trequartista. The other three occupy a similarly undefined position on the dialect-slang continuum but are not restricted to sporting contexts: Noah’s, do bits and shebeen; they qualify, however, as they demonstrate how sporting discourse in the press and on broadcast and social media – especially interviews with athletes, live commentaries etc. – gives vernacular English a mainstream platform.

In the light of increased corporate sponsorship of sport and the expansion to new territories of prestigious international sporting events it’s not surprising that sportswashing [= ‘a strategy whereby a nation or corporation leverages sport to enhance its reputation’] has made the headlines this year. Sport frequently serves as a legitimate tool for soft diplomacy, but sportswashing – recorded in the MacMillan Dictionary from 2018 – describes a deliberate policy of harnessing sport’s popular appeal and wholesome image to deflect criticism from a regime or company’s corrupt or unethical behaviour.

From a British point of view we might justifiably consider nuffy [= ‘person with particular passion/obsession’] Australian dialect, but the Macquarie Dictionary categorises it as ‘colloquial’ and even includes cricket nuffy as one of its examples of typical usage. Likewise, shebeen [= ‘illicit drinking den (esp. in South African townships)’] is classified as South African English in the OED. Both forms demonstrate the ‘World Englishes’ dimension of cricket and rugby as sports predominantly played in Commonwealth countries, as does the initially puzzling Ciderabad [= ‘Somerset County Cricket ground, Taunton’]. This is a wonderful example of wordplay containing multiple layers of cultural reference and requires considerable knowledge of cricket to deconstruct and interpret. Firstly, one needs to know that Taunton and Somerset, in the heart of England’s West Country, are synonymous with cider production and consumption and, secondly, that cricket pitches there have recently been unusually receptive to spin bowling. Finally, one needs to be familiar with cricket in the subcontinent, where pitches – such as the Test ground at Hyderabad in India – are traditionally associated with dry, dusty conditions ideally suited to spin bowling. To capture all that implicit knowledge in a single word is pure genius.

Two entries reveal a similar kind of linguistic playfulness, but rather than exploiting a phonological association, unSpursy and six-iest require imaginative grammatical manipulation. For many years, Tottenham Hotspur – nicknamed Spurs – have played attractive football but ultimately failed to win trophies, despite frequently coming agonisingly close. As a result many football fans, including Tottenham’s own supporters, have adopted the word Spursy [= ‘the tendency to falter when within reach of success’], such that it has attracted the attention of Collins Dictionary. As an adjective, Spursy adheres to normal English rules of derivation so additional forms can be generated. In this year’s Guardian I’ve spotted the noun Spursiness – note the adherence to English orthography in the substitution of a medial <i> for the adjectival suffix <y> – and, here, unSpursy, with its cheeky nod to the non-conformist conventions of e-publishing whereby a capital letter (denoting the underlying proper noun, Spurs) appears word-medially. On the other hand, six-iest [= ‘match with the highest total number of boundary sixes’] is a nonce-formation based on the number six with an unconventional superlative suffix added. The inspiration here is, I suspect, similar idiosyncratic sporting superlatives – to British English speakers anyway – such as US English winningest [= ‘individual athlete/team with the most victories’], but with the additional appeal of a phonological similarity with sexiest, capturing the notion that a game featuring such a high number of risky shots must be the most exciting and glamorous.

The term Manhattan appears to be widely used among cricket statisticians and commentators, and thus probably constitutes cricketing jargon. Modern sports analysis relishes a data visualisation tool and cricket has embraced this technological development enthusiastically. The wagon wheel [= ‘visual representation of direction of batsman’s run-scoring shots’] has been around for some time, but until this year’s ICC World Cup I was completely unaware of the Manhattan [= ‘bar chart showing rate of progress by runs per over’] and its counterpart, the worm [= ‘line chart showing rate of progress by runs per over’]. I’d be intrigued to know if either term is used by mathematicians more broadly.

Manhattan
Due to the prominent role played by the British in codifying football, English dominates much of its associated specialist terminology so it’s rare for non-English words to enter football jargon, hence the inclusion here of the Italian loan word trequartista [= ‘attacking midfielder, playmaker’]. The greater presence in recent years of European footballers and coaches in the UK has meant an increased appetite for European tactics and, hence, the vocabulary to describe these innovations. In addition to trequartista, Guardian articles have this year featured the words rondo [= ‘training drill in which players seek to keep possession of the ball in an enclosed space’], regista [= ‘deep-lying midfield playmaker’] and raumdeuter [= ‘player who reads (and exploits) tight spaces’], from Spanish, Italian and German respectively. All three appear in numerous online glossaries of football and – more importantly – in spontaneous conversations about the game among English fans.

Finally, we turn to two slang terms: Noah’s and do bits. The former confirms our enduring enthusiasm for rhyming slang – Noah’s is, underlyingly, Noah’s ark [= ‘dark’], but the conventions of rhyming slang dictate that the rhyming element (ark) is omitted. Green's Dictionary of Slang records Noah’s [= ‘lark, prank’] from 1891; [= ‘park’] from 1924; and (in Australian English) [= ‘shark’] from 1963, but has no record in this sense, while the New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2006) records Noah’s ark [= ‘dark’] from 1934 – coincidentally including a citation from 1992 in a cricketing context. The endlessly productive and light-hearted nature of rhyming slang explains its continued appeal. The quote from Daryll Neita, by contrast, is a fantastic example of current British urban slang: do bits [= ‘to do well, to succeed’] is first recorded by Green in 2017 – Dary’lls use of G [= ‘term of praise’] in the same breath, by the way, is also cited from 1991.

All of this year’s entries are captured in The British Library’s Contemporary British collections, making the Library an incomparable resource for anyone interested in monitoring vernacular language. And so to the winner: well … my head tells me it should be sportswashing as I sense sports governing bodies should respond to calls for greater social responsibility, but hey – it’s Christmas – so I’m going with Ciderabad. Because it’s brilliant.

CIDERABADFollow Spoken English collections at https://twitter.com/VoicesofEnglish

 

11 November 2019

Recording of the week: English spoken here

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

‘At the chemist’s’ is an early example of a sound recording made for the purposes of teaching English as a foreign language. Recorded in the 1930s by two UCL phoneticians, J.R. Firth (1890-1960) & Lilias Armstrong (1882-1937), it represents a typical conversation in a shop.

At the chemist's (BL reference 1CS0089829)

Black & white photograph of the interior of an early 20th century chemistsInterior of an early 20th century chemists (via the National Library of Ireland)

The voices capture period Received Pronunciation (RP), the regionally neutral, middle-class British accent that dominated educational publication and broadcast output in the UK for much of the 20th century. RP is still considered a prestige accent by some, but like any other accent it has changed considerably in the intervening years. Some of the vowel sounds we hear in this recording are now rare in present-day RP – most notably the <a> sound both speakers use in words like madam, packet, bandages and tablets, while the pronunciation of Vaseline with a medial <z> sound is particularly striking.

Compared with modern audio teaching materials (and exchanges in shops) the language also seems extremely formal and the dialogue a little unnatural – the idea, for instance, that students should understand, let alone use, phrases such as compress with arnica and tincture of iodine is fascinating. Nonetheless, anyone with experience of learning a second language will instantly recognise the genre. The recording also offers a glimpse of contemporary pharmaceutical products and terminology. Court plaster – as opposed, simply, to plaster or sticking plaster – is particularly intriguing and J.R. Firth’s endorsement of the brand New-skin ('you see what it is from what it says on the label') bears an uncanny resemblance to the famous 1990s TV slogan for Ronseal wood preserver (‘it does exactly what it says on the tin’). Finally, Lilias Armstrong’s use of good morning as a farewell might seem particularly unusual to modern ears.

Find out more about RP on our British Accents and Dialects website and follow @VoicesofEnglish for tweets about language.

30 September 2019

Recording of the week: in Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire …

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

H-dropping – the tendency for some speakers to omit the initial <h> sound in words like house – has a long history. It’s extremely common in England, Wales and parts of the Caribbean, but rare in Scotland, Ireland or indeed the USA and most other English-speaking parts of the world. Because of its association in the UK with ‘local’ speech, it’s extremely stigmatised and frequently provokes criticism as these speakers confirm.

Discussion about H-Dropping & Hypercorrect H. BBC Voices Recording from Devizes, Wiltshire, 2004 (C1190/34/03)

For many years, self-conscious speakers in the UK have been anxious to avoid this social gaffe. In some cases insecurity over when to include <h> and when to leave it out can prompt a speaker to insert a <h> sound where there is none in the written word – a process referred to by linguists as hypercorrection. In the 19th century as social status became increasingly associated with accent, elocution classes, instruction manuals and pamphlets, such as 'Poor Letter H', were extremely popular among lower-middle-class speakers keen to acquire prestigious pronunciation forms.

Illustration from 'Poor Letter H: its use and abuse' (1854)Illustration from 'Poor Letter H: its use and abuse' (1854)

More than 150 years of middle-class anxiety about H-dropping has occasionally led to a change in the way we pronounce individual words. In contrast to the advice given here in 'Poor Letter H', we now seek to pronounce humble, humour, humility and hospital with initial <h> in formal speech, although they were originally pronounced without it even in ‘polite circles’. We also expect herb with an audible <h> in the UK, although the older form (without <h>) persists in the USA and opinions vary as to the ‘correct’ pronunciation of hotel and historic (is it a historic moment or an historic moment?). Perhaps the increased tendency to pronounce the letter aitch as ‘haitch’ as discussed here is an example of a similar change in progress. If prompted by our continued disapproval of H-dropping, it’s particularly interesting as it requires speakers to insert a <h> sound that is not reflected in the spelling.

Personally, I can think of no greater guilty linguistic pleasure than a judiciously dropped H or indeed a hypercorrect one. One of my fondest memories of my dad (b. Castleford, 1934) is of the occasion he took me to a prestigious boarding school for a hockey match and asked a rather condescending-looking schoolmaster the way to the hall-weather ockey pitch. That was 1983 – I wish he were around now to ask for directions to the hastroturf.

Find out more about social variation in British English on our British Accents and Dialects website and follow @VoicesofEnglish for tweets about language.

17 September 2019

Beginnings: Arabic music in the 'Ezra Hakkāk and Emile Cohen Collection

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Hazem Jamjoum joined the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Project in April 2019 as Gulf Audio Curator and Cataloguer. Over the next 2-3 years he will be working on the Library's audio collections connected with the Gulf region to scope, catalogue and research them, to manage their preservation and access and to write about them. In this blog Hazem talks of his introduction to the collections.

 

It was at the very beginning, less than three weeks into my role as Gulf History Audio Curator that I found myself with British Library Sound Archive doyen Ian Macaskill in the disc and tape-bestrewn room through which newly acquired sound and moving image materials enter the British Library’s collections. At the end of this audio-cataloguer rite of passage, one foot already out the door, I was beckoned back into the room to describe my role at the Library to another veteran of the accessioning team. As if awaiting confirmation that I would work with Arabic language materials, a bemused Jowan Collier rose from his seat and began the dance around the stacks of CDs to the other end of the room. “I imagine there’s a box that’s been sitting here that might just pique your interest.” A few dozen shellacs in an assortment of discrepant sleeves lay in a dark wooden box marked “532: Emile Cohen Collection.” A yellow sticky note, curled up like a delaminated lacquer disc on the side of the box announced October 25, 2016 as the donation date.

Image of Emile Cohen Box
“…there’s a box that’s been sitting here that might just pique your interest.”


I eventually found out that it was my predecessor on the British Library-Qatar Foundation partnership, Rolf Killius, who had arranged for this gift. Rolf had delivered a lecture about Iraqi music at the British Institute for the Study of Iraq after which an elderly gentleman introduced himself, and soon thereafter offered to donate a collection of shellacs to the British Library. This was Emile Cohen. Born in Baghdad in 1943 to a secular scion of a rabbinical family, Emile spent the evenings of his youth listening to the dozens of guests who would assemble at his grandfather’s house for edifying conversation. Given the centrality of Baghdad’s Jewish community to the city’s musical life, much of this conversation centred on things musical. It didn’t hurt that from the roof of their house they could eavesdrop on the regular musical performances at the nightclub next door. Cohen had obtained the recordings from 'Ezra Hakkāk. The Hakkāk’s owned a shop on al-Rasheed Street in Baghdad and another in Tehran that started off selling leather goods, branching out into sewing machines, electronics and, ultimately gramophone machines and records.

Emile narrates much about these and other stories in an oral history interview conducted by Richard Green and held at the Library as part of the Sephardi Voices UK Collection (C1638), and which comprises oral history testimony about the settlement of Jews from West Asia and North Africa in the UK.

Image of Emile Cohen with Collection – photo by Rolf Killius 2016
Emile Cohen just before a trip to the British Library to donate his shellac collection. Photo: Rolf Killius, 2016.

Much can be said about what was in that little box, but ‘beginnings’ might be ‘a very good place to start’ given how many of the recordings contained in that box of wonders embodied career-launching events in the contributing artists’ biographies. At the very top of the box’s stack of discs lay two Baidaphon records by the legendary Laylā Murād (1918-1995). Though Murād had achieved enough fame as a teenager in one of Cairo’s top music halls to be cast in one of the earliest full length Egyptian films (al-Dhaḥāyā [The Victims], 1932, dir. Bahija Hafez and Ibrahim Lama), hers was a minor role in the silent film. She achieved a bit more notoriety when that film was reissued as a ‘talkie’ a few years later, landing her a recording deal with Baidaphon that resulted in Ḥabbayt w shuft ktīr (I've loved and seen a great deal), which was also in the box. But it was not until her 1938 collaboration with Moḥammad ʻAbd al-Wahhāb on the film Yaḥyā al-Ḥubb (Long Live Love, dir. Moḥammad Karīm) that her career as a superstar singer and actor began. Indeed, the two records at the top of the delightful box were Yā mā ʼaraqq al-nasīm (oh how soft the breeze) and Yā qalbī mālak (oh my heart, what is the matter), both written by Aḥmad Rāmī and composed by ʻAbd al-Wahhāb, and both from that film’s soundtrack.

Image of Habbayt w shuft kteer on the Baidaphon label
“Ḥabbayt w shuft ktīr” on the Baidaphon label. Recorded when she was 19 years of age, it was one of Layla Murad’s very first recordings.

Nestled among the shellacs in the box of wonders was a little 17cm disc in its original sleeve proclaiming the artist as “Om Kalsoum”, one of more than a dozen variations on the Egyptian diva’s name. The recording is “Enta fein wel ḥobb fein” which roughly translates as “love is here, and you are way over there”, a song much better known after its opening verse "ḥubb eh illi-inta gayy tʼūl 'aleh" (what love is it that you speak of). By 1960, when this song was first performed, Um Kulthūm was already well established as the pre-eminent Arab artist across the region. Indeed, at that time Egypt and Syria had united into the United Arab Republic, and Um Kulthūm had been chosen to sing the union’s national anthem. But it was the largely unknown composer of this runaway hit who skyrocketed to regional fame when it was first performed. Balīgh Ḥamdī (1931-1993) had studied music since the age of nine, spending his college years between law school and the music academy before trying his hand as a singer in the late 1950s. It was around this time that Um Kulthūm was looking for a new sound, meeting Ḥamdī at the recommendation of singer (and Misrphon label owner) Moḥamad Fawzī. In the two decades that followed the success of ḥubb eh, Ḥamdī became one of the most sought after composers in the Arab world, composing for every major artist of the mid-twentieth century as well as for radio, television, theatre and the cinema. Hip hop aficionados will be very familiar with Timbaland’s sampling of the melody from Ḥamdī’s Khusāra khusāra on Jay Z’s first major hit single, Big Pimpin’. Intellectual property enthusiasts are likely also familiar with it after Ḥamdī’s nephew sued Jay Z, Timbaland and EMI in 2007 for copyright infringement. The court summarily dismissed the case in 2015, finding that Egyptian law was not applicable, and that as a result the artists and the recording company were under no obligation to seek the permission of Ḥamdī’s family for what the family considered a debauched use of Balīgh Ḥamdī’s work.

Image of Um Kulthūm on the cover of Enta Fein wel Hobb Fein
The original sleeve of Um Kulthūm’s ḥubb eh, composed by Balīgh Ḥamdī


In addition to a host of other career-making recordings, Emile Cohen’s gift can tell the tale of another sort of beginning; the beginning of Egyptian music’s regional dominance in the interwar period. Many of those involved in the development of cultural production in Egypt since the nineteenth century were artists whose families had moved to Egypt from Greater Syria, a trend that continued well into the twentieth century. From this collection alone, some names that stand out include:

  • Ṣabāḥ, who was brought to Egypt from Mount Lebanon by filmmaker ’Āssia Dāgher and ultimately recorded over 3000 songs and performed in over 100 plays and films;
  • Moḥammad Salmān, who moved to Cairo from Mt. Lebanon to pursue a career in music but would later find his passion as an actor and filmmaker in the Egyptian capital;
  • Ḥalīm al-Rūmī, who grew up in Palestine performing as an amateur until he was sent to study at the music academy in Cairo in 1937. There, he became deeply involved in composing and performing for radio audiences before eventually becoming head of music programming at the Near East Broadcasting Service in Palestine until the expulsion of, and denial of return to, two-thirds of the Palestinian population in 1947-1948. After a few years with the broadcast service which had moved to Cyprus, he moved to Lebanon to head the music department at the Lebanese radio service al-Sharq al-Awsat;
  • Najāḥ Salām’s Beiruti father was a well-known composer and ‘ūd player and took the chanteuse, already known in Lebanon, to Cairo in 1948 to meet many of the leading musical figures of the Egyptian capital. This, of course, did wonders for her career. So much so that by the mid-1970s she was granted honorary Egyptian citizenship.
  • Sihām Rifqī who moved from Syria to Egypt for a music and film career, recording over a dozen hits before an early retirement;
    and of course
  • Farīd al-‘Aṭrash and Amal al-‘Aṭrash (aka Asmahān), brother and sister born to a notable Druze family that had led the resistance against the French occupation of Syria, moving to Egypt because of the anticolonial connections between their family and that of the Egyptian independence movement’s leader Sa‘d Zaghlūl. The siblings rose to dominate the music and musical film scene in Cairo by the 1940s.
Image of Baidaphon sleeve featuring their top recording artists
Baidaphon was a Beirut-based record label, and possibly the first homegrown music recording company in the Arab world. This sleeve from the 1940s showcases the company’s top recording artists. It is notable that all of these artists hail from Greater Syria, and all of them launched their stardom and regional celebrity in Egypt. Clockwise from the top: Asmahān, Najāḥ Salām, Ḥalīm al-Rūmī, Sihām Rifqī, Moḥammad Salmān, Ḥanān. The record in the photograph is by an Egyptian dancer of Syrian origin, Bibā ʻIzz al-Dīn, who achieved far more notoriety for her live shows in Cairo’s music halls than she did for her recorded output.

Those familiar with postcolonial dynamics will be particularly aware of just how politicised cultural battles between former coloniser and colonised can be. In the case of Arab states emerging from British, French and Italian colonial rule, and in light of the centrality of Cairo described above, the battle over national culture was also waged with an eye to Egypt. Whether in Tunisia, Iraq, or elsewhere, the mid-twentieth century witnessed an immense amount of activity that practically accepted Egyptian cultural production as the language of Arabic culture, but each of these fledgling nation-states sought to develop and elevate their own dialect within that. The dynamic between language and dialect is not only metaphor; any composer in the interwar period who wanted to produce 'serious' music had to do so in either classical Arabic or an Egyptian dialect, while other dialects were reserved for their own folklore. After the post-WWII wave of postcolonial independence, composers and lyricists beyond the confines of Cairo sought a legitimacy for their own dialects, including other Egyptian dialects, as ones that could convey a cultivated urbanity.

The recordings in this collection help tell that story as it unfolded in Lebanon. The early recordings by Ṣabāḥ and Wadī‘ al-Ṣāf ī in the collection typify the folkloric bent of the music recorded in Lebanon well into the 1940s. One of the more significant recordings in the collection is the song Waynik yā Laylā (Where are you Layla) by Sāmī al-Ṣaydāwī, who originally composed the song for Lebanese singer Kamāl al-Ṭawīl. Both Ṣaydāwī and Ṭawīl had built careers performing in the Egyptian dialect to audiences in both Egypt and Greater Syria; Waynik yā Laylā was one of the early non-folkloric songs performed and recorded in the Syro-Lebanese dialect, forming part of a trend that would continue and grow over the decades that followed.

Image of the iconic cover art of Fairūz and the Raḥbānī brothers’ 1952 hit: ʻItāb (reproach)
The iconic cover art of Fairūz and the Raḥbānī brothers’ 1952 hit: ʻItāb (reproach)



The artists who did the most to propel Lebanese song into the more exalted register regionally all had a part to play in yet another item in the box of wonders. The song ʻItāb (reproach), appearing on the Zodephone label in the early 1950s, was an instant hit, one that proved momentous for the emergence of Beirut as Cairo’s main musical rival. The vocalist, Nuhād Haddād, had been 'discovered' a few years earlier by Mohamad Flayfel, composer of such songs as Mawṭini (‘my homeland’, the popularly accepted national anthem of Palestine, and the post-2003-occupation anthem of Iraq) and Ḥumāt al-Diyār (‘defenders of the home,’ the national anthem of Syria). Flayfel encouraged Haddād to study music at the conservatory, and to immerse herself in that repository of vocal technique at the heart of ecstatic Arabic song: Qur’anic recitation (tajwīd). While at the conservatory, Ḥalīm al-Rūmī heard her sing and decided to take her under his wing, introducing her to his friends the Raḥbānī brothers, ‘Assī and Manṣūr. Rūmī also decided to pick out a stage name for her, one that means turquoise, and that millions of people now associate with their morning coffee: Fairūz.

As a romance blossomed between ‘Assī Raḥbānī and Nuhād (they married in 1955), so did their creative collaboration, the first fruit of which was the song ʻItāb that is on this recording. The airing of this song on Lebanese and then Syrian radio in late 1952 launched Fairūz’s regional fame, enabling her to sign her first recording contract with Zodephone. Indeed, Zodephone's early success as a record company was based on the company's recordings of Fairuz songs.

All that’s left to say is a big warm thank you to Emile Cohen and ‘Ezra Hakkāk for such wonderful beginnings!

 

Written by Hazem Jamjoum, Gulf Audio Curator and Cataloguer, British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Project (BLQF), which produces the Qatar Digital Library. Follow the BLQF Project @BLQatar

Follow The British Library’s World and Traditional Music team @BL_WorldTrad

Follow Unlocking Our Sound Heritage updates @BLSoundHeritage

29 July 2019

Recording of the week: kids say the funniest things

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

Watching a child acquire its first language is a fascinating process. At a certain age, children naturally apply rules drawn from their exposure to their mother tongue to create forms which ‘seem’ right. The most obvious example is how some young children initially form past tenses such as drinked and falled. The fact that children don’t hear these forms from adults around them proves that they are not just ‘learning’ language and copying others, rather that they have an in-built language faculty and can intuitively apply rules to words, albeit in some cases not producing conventional forms.   

As children begin to experiment creatively with language, they often produce the kind of innovative construction discussed here. As their ability to express themselves grows they sometimes invent original expressions, such as the phrase fully-handed [= ‘overladen/carrying too much’].

In the following clip, Terri Bond speaks about an original expression invented by her son:

FULLY-HANDED (C1190/39/02

'If a child has used a word wrongly that makes everyone laugh, it then becomes part of your family’s vocabulary. We have loads of them, we’ve got one of them where I once asked Jonathan to pick up his coat as he was getting out of the car and he’d got a book, a cuddly, and he was about four, he said 'I can’t mummy I’m fully-handed', so now if you’ve got too much to carry in our house you’re now fully-handed and you don’t realise that other people don’t know what you’re talking about and think you’re a bit odd.'
BBC Voices Recording in Jersey © BBC 2005 C1190/39/02

Photograph of Terri BondPhotograph of Terri Bond who speaks about original expressions and family vocabulary.

This word captures the concept perfectly and is in fact grammatically acceptable, but does not reflect idiomatic usage. The effect is often comical to adults and most families can list numerous examples of the wonderful expressions invented by young children that become part of their ‘kitchen table lingo’. One of several such expressions that have stuck in our family is the tendency to describe fresh food as on, since all three of our children when younger made a point of enquiring before pouring milk on to their cereals first thing in a morning: is this milk off or on?

We’d be delighted to hear examples of your kitchen table lingo, so do tweet us at @VoicesofEnglish.

Follow @soundarchive for all the latest news.                                           

27 May 2019

Recording of the week: Gbamu gbamu jigi jigi! Happy times in WordBank

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This week's selection comes from Dr Amy Evans Bauer, a former British Library volunteer.

The repertoire of contemporary celebratory exclamations is one of the most joy-filled parts of the Evolving English WordBank. This recording was contributed by a man born in 1965, who defined his accent as Nigerian and spoke both English and Yorùbá.

Photograph of sunset with silhouetted figures in foreground

GBAMU GBAMU JIGI JIGI (C1442/2785)

The word is gbamu gbamu jigi jigi it’s a Nige… it’s a native Nigerian Yorùbá language of origin and it’s mainly associated or you know used when someone is expressing when someone is happy or when someone is showing how happy he is, you know.

Yorùbá is one of Nigeria’s four most widely spoken languages, alongside Hausa, Igbo and English (which is the official language). Part of the Niger-Congo group of languages, it is the first language of an estimated 20 million people in southwestern Nigeria, with more speakers in Benin, Togo, Ghana, Senegal, the Gambia, UK, USA, Brazil, Cuba and elsewhere. Like many other African languages, Yorùbá is tonal: the pitch at which syllables are voiced can denote different meanings of words of the same spelling. For example, oko means farm, whereas òkò means projectile.

This recording contains a letter that you will not find in the English alphabet. The Yorùbá alphabet consists of twenty-five letters. Almost all of the consonants have the same pronunciations as in English, except for the letters p, gb and ṣ:

The letter gb has no similarity in the English language. It does not represent a separate pronunciation of g and b as spelled but articulated as a simultaneous release of both, following a contraction of the lips and muscles of the throat.
(Fakinlede, K. 2002. English-Yorùbá Yorùbá-English Modern Practical Dictionary, p. 11-12)

The expression is also striking for its poetic devices of repetition and onomatopoeia, whereby a word is formed through imitative sounds that convey its content. (The term onomatopoeia derives from the Greek onoma, onomat [= ‘name’] + -poios [= ‘making’]). The first part of the phrase, gbamu gbamu, indicates being overfilled, and the second, jigi jigi, resembles a drumbeat rhythm. As Professor Karin Barber told me, “In Yorùbá, speech easily turns to song, and it’s said that aiduro nijo [not standing still is tantamount to dancing].” When I asked my Nigerian friends from Yorùbáland Yinka, Funke and Edward whether they say gbamu gbamu jigi jigi, they immediately flung their arms in the air and swung their hips while chanting it back to me. Their moving answer transformed our spoken interaction into contagiously grinsome conversation-as-choreography! (Try this on someone today!).

Our contributor’s verbal celebration contrasts with the numerous utterances of dismay that are preserved in the collection, and which are often similarly replete with arm flinging. Favourites that we have tweeted include the Yiddish expression oy vey and a refrain of my own West Sussex and Hampshire childhood soundscapes my giddy aunt.

We’d love to know the exclamatory slang and dialect that you shout, sing and dance when the silent stillness of a texted emoji just won’t do. So do tweet us at @VoicesofEnglish. Meanwhile, I wish you all a jazz hands kind of day!

Amy’s at-sea poetry installation SOUND((ING))S is available to hear online or to read in chapbook form as the transcript PASS PORT

01 April 2019

Recording of the week: well sick

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

The widespread use among young speakers of sick [= 'great, excellent'] follows the pattern of several slang terms in which the conventional meaning is inverted by speakers who subsequently use it as an all-purpose term of approval. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) records a similar process with wicked from the 1920s and bad from the 1950s onwards, for example.

Taken out of context this can, of course, lead to confusion between the generations as illustrated by a text message I once received from my then 18-year-old daughter. Having just seen one of her favourite bands at Reading Festival she texted: Peace just finished! fifth row! was sick! I chose to interpret this as good news.

Photograph of a message alert on a mobile phone

This positive meaning of sick was one of the most popular submissions to the Library's Evolving English WordBank, a crowd-sourced collection of dialect and slang created by members of the public in 2010/11, as illustrated by these two contributions, and is first recorded in the OED in 1983.

SICK [Manchester C1442/1917]

female (b.1987, Manchester): 'Sometimes with my friends I say that’s sick meaning that’s extremely good. I’ve got a feeling it comes from sort of Afro-Caribbean influences,  Asian British Asian influences as well, that’s where I seem to hear it the most.'

SICK [West Midlands C1442/1332]

male (b. West Midlands): 'One of the most common phrases I use is sick for something really good it’s extremely common between me and my mates we would say oh how was the gig last night ... oh it was sick.'

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