Sunday, October 28, 2012

Between Species: Animal-Human Bilingualism


ITM readers: Jeffrey posted about the "Burnable Books" blog earlier, and I wanted to bring your attention to a fun experiment unfolding there: the idea is the use social media to practice talking about our work! (Check out the writeup on the blog and on twitter - use the hashtag #3tweetsmax)

In the spirit of sharing, here's a half-completed essay that I've been working on (as Frankenstorm approaches...)

Sounds of nonhuman things: De voces variae animacium
St Gallen Stiftsbiblothek Codex Sang. 225 p. 132
[Embiggen or flip through the entire manuscript HERE]

Animal Voices:

I'm currently completing an article on medieval animal-sound wordlists (often under the Latin title heading such as voces variae animantium, which translates literally as “the different voices of animate things”) for a forthcoming essay collection. These lists took many forms, but the one thing they have in common is (at the very least) a list of animals with the appropriate Latin verb denoting the sound each one produces.[1] For example, this page above transmits one such list (flip through the entire manuscript HERE – and thanks to Chris Piuma for bringing this link to my attention!); see also a transcription HERE [If you don’t read Latin, the first items on the left column read “Ovis bobat / Canis latrat / Lupus ululat…” which means something like “the sheep bleats / the dog barks / the wolf howls …” etc.] These lists are interesting for many reasons; among other things, they often break open our (modern and Western) ideas of exactly constitutes an “animate” honhuman agent in the first place; for instance, fire and running water among things that make sound.[2] Adding to this complexity, some other Latin wordlists are accompanied by parallel translations of the verbs into other languages. In thinking about these lists, I want to concentrate just on the human/animal interface here, and take these lists seriously as modes of enacting animal-to-human translations.[3] These lists, all their variety and complexity, provide exciting venues for considering a range of medieval language-crossings – movements across species boundaries, and movements across (human) cultures.

If you’ve ever compared animal sounds with someone who speaks another language, it can be surprising to find out that an animal “sounds different” in a different cultural environment – to an English speaker, a dog goes woof woof (or bow wow); to a Chinese speaker this same animal goes 汪汪 (wang wang).[4] Some of the broad similarities among animal sounds across languages could suggest a certain pan-cultural onomatopoeia, inviting us to ask whether there is some universal or deeply ingrained capacity for humans to mimic animal sounds in similar ways. I would take the information on this page with a grain of salt, but assuming most of its entries are more or less correct it does nicely illustrate how even non-related languages can share similar sonic strategies for animal-sound mimicry: cats across human cultures utter something remarkably like meow; snakes invariably use some sort of sibilance (S-sounds); the rooster makes some sort of multisyllabic sound full of voiceless velar stops (i.e. consonant K). (Cross-linguistic research in the field of linguistic anthropology can, at times, support possible points of connection between animal mimicry and sonic features cutting across human languages; for instance, the frequent occurrence of “r” and “g” sounds in frog names across two hundred languages in New Guinea might be a case of a frog-imitating cross-linguistic feature.[5])

These medieval wordlists readily reveal the sheer complexity of this messy zoo-anthro-linguistic soundscape we inhabit. The phrase “lupus ululat” (the wolf howls), for instance, is a formulation that appears in many Latin lists like these, and translating such a statement actually poses a bit of a challenge; in this phrase, the verb actually denotes two things at once – the creature’s action, and a mild imitation of the sound the creature produces. In “lupus ululat,” the assonance of “u” sounds in the verb paired with the noun “lupus” strongly reinforces the aooooo!!! sound. But “ululat” is also employed (elsewhere in other lists) to denote the utterance-and-sound of an owl, so one might say the verb is something like mimetic homonym: the Latin “ululat” splinters into two different the modern English verbs “hoots” (in the case of an owl) or “howls” (in the case of a wolf).

I’m dwelling on this multivalent sound-action “ululat” as an invitation to think more closely about the relationship between animal vocalization (as ventriloquized via human language) and bilingualism, and to more carefully consider the role that animal sounds themselves actually play as didactic strategy for second-language acquisition. Contemporary social science research is quite interesting in this regard: one study on French contexts reveals that onomatopoeia (including animal mimicry) can play a key role in language instruction.[6] To draw from a different cultural environment, Japanese researchers have suggested that verbs that have onomatopoeic patterns – including ones that imitate animals – may actually facilitate their mastery by schoolchildren.[7]

In a medieval context, this animal-human interface plays a role in language learning as well. In Aelfric's Grammar, for instance, the translation of Latin animal sounds into Old English becomes a pivot point that establishes a shared grammatical feature across languages while also opening an opportunity for creative translation. The text translates a sequence of third-person Latin verbs expressing the actions of nonhuman agents (e.g. Latin pluit becomes rinþ, “it rains”); in the case of animal utterances the inherent sounds of the relevant third-person Latin verbs only haphazardly “carry over” into their Anglo-Saxon verb equivalents. Some of the Latin/Anglo-Saxon pairs read as follows (and, once again, translation into modern English is admittedly tricky): ouis balat / scep blaet = the sheep bleats (says baaa); bos mugit / oxa hlewð = the cow says moo (the ox lows); equus hinnit / hors hnægð = the horse neighs (whinnies, goes hinhnignnnh).[8] What sort of imaginative work are these bilingual animal sounds are performing? Rather than thinking of these pairings as instances of the same animal vocalization replicated divergently in Latin or in the vernacular, I’d like to entertain the possibility that the reader (medieval or modern) is actually invited to process these disparate linguistic units concurrently, approximating in one’s memory to arrive at a zoo-vocalization that can never be transcribed (in any human language or writing system).[9]

Dwelling on these bilingual examples from Aelfric's Grammar allows us to approach the voces variae animantium wordlists in new ways. Rather than thinking of a “one way street” of translation from animal sound to human imitation, I would like to imagine medieval people entertaining the possibility of mutual interspecies exchange or convergence, or uttering two species-marked languages at once. I might suggest that each of these verbal vocalizations – rather than providing inadequate anthro-imitations of animal sounds – are best construed as ambilingual utterances that resonate across species difference.

All of this is just to say that we need not necessarily follow the lead of Priscian and other medieval Latin grammarians by segregating the “inarticulate” animal vox (voice, utterance) from rational human speech that can be set to writing. It's precisely the dynamic interface between species utterances – these near and partial modes of understanding, and the perceived gap between inarticulate sound and proximal modes of (human) articulation – that I find most worth pursuing. [10]

Languages Collide:

These animal-sound wordlists are just one avenue for exploring the contours of inter-species communication. A literary text like Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale offers the fantasy of a “queynte ryng” which (worn on the finger) allows a Tartar princess to understand the “leden” (speech or utterance) of a “faucoun peregryn [o]f fremde land” (peregrine falcon from a foreign land) (435, 428-429).[11] In this text, though, the bird’s “leden” is fully rendered as Middle English discourse, and we actually don’t get any hint of the sounds of bird vocalization through the text. Other literary texts do find ways to more pointedly explore I might call a concurrent trans-species language processing that entails an overt mimicry of bird sounds. In Chaucer’s Manciple’s Tale, the god Phoebus teaches his pet bird how to speak (or to imitate human speech – the text is a bit unclear about the distinction).[12] The bird witnesses Phoebus’s wife having an affair with another man, and when the bird reveals the news to Phoebus the bird’s utterance is recorded as “Cokkow, cokkow, cukkow!” (243). This moment is a “joke” on many levels. First of all, in Middle English, this would have registered as a near-pun with the utterance “Cuckold! Cuckold! Cuckold!” Second, the bird conspicuously speaks Middle English here, breaking any fiction that this exchange is happening in ancient Greek or whatever Phoebus would have actually spoken “back in the day” with his bird. Third, the bird could be interpreted as simply “being a bird” at this point in narrative – i.e., the bird is making ordinary avian squawks that accidentally sound as if it is speaking in Middle English. At this moment in the story, Chaucer provides an onomatopoeic transcription of bird vocalization that simultaneously conveys meaning in a human language.

Other literary texts find inventive means to encode intra-species avian communication as well. In John Clanvowe’s The Boke of Cupide, a cuckoo and nightingale engage in an extended debate, and the literary discourses employed by these two different birds are differentially encoded as if through two different human vernaculars – or at least two distinct sociolinguistic registers within a single language (Middle English). Throughout this text, the cuckoo asserts that his language is clear and plain, and his simple English diction conveys this effect; the nightingale – whose sonic performance considered much more sophisticated – utters a “nyse, queynt crie” (strange, unfamiliar cry) that employs obscure forms of French-inflected vocabulary (133). She (the nightingale) utters “Ocy! Ocy!” – a common way of transcribing birdsong in French, enacting a longstanding literary French-language pun on the imperative form of occrire: “Kill! Kill!”[13] The simple (English) cuckoo does not understand what this (French) nightingale-vocalization means, and he requires verbal translation (126-135). In this case, two different types of bird vocalization awkwardly clash across two languages within a single literary text.

Further collision of animal sounds across languages can be enacted through versified animal-sound lists as well. For instance, Walter of Bibbesworth’s Tretiz sets out to teach the reader how to speak French; within this work, a versified list of the sounds of animals in French (“la naturele noise des toutes manere des bestes”) is recorded alongside marginal gloss “cribs” written out in Middle English.[14] Reading across these glosses, one can discern cases when some aspect of onomatopoeia is preserved (“louwe oule” = “wolfe yollez,” 256); in other cases consonant clusters are slightly transmuted (“gruue groule” = “crane crekez,” 250), or the strategies of animal mimicry are transmuted (the French “vache mugist” – with an implicit “moo” sound in the verb – gives way to a repetition of vowels in the English “cow lowes,” 250).

In the bilingual (bird/English) episode in Chaucer’s Manciple’s Tale, the inter-linguistic (French/English) translation of birdsong enacted by Clanvowe’s nightingale, and the glosses in a bilingual versified wordlist, animal utterances serve as a disruptive and generative force that tests the very limits of language and mobilizes expanding strategies of (human) vocalization. Rather than conceiving human and nonhuman utterances as operating on separate tracks – or thinking of animal vocalizations by means of analogy to human linguistic utterances – we can entertain a collaborative processing of languages: the human and (with, alongside) the nonhuman.

But Wait...
In concentrating on sonic phenomena as the privileged mode of interaction between species, it may be the case I’m “on the wrong track” (trailing a “red herring,” or “off the scent” perhaps?). As anyone who has pets (or interacts frequently with animals) would know, much inter-species communication is non-verbal and also non-sonic – facial expressions, somatic mimicry, physical contact (aggressive or playful), biting, motion (e.g. pointing, blocking one's path), sniffing (and emitting pheromones), leaving excrement or other internal fluids where one should not, among other modes of interaction.

As a gesture to an inter-species world of interaction beyond the sonic, I’ll just end by suggesting one medieval venue for human mimicry of animals that is enacted through somatic, nonverbal expression. In his fascinating study of the practices and social meanings of silence in medieval monastic communities, Scott Bruce traces the nuanced role of (deliberately minimalist) systems of gestures; since monastic communities were obliged to take a vow of silence, a very rudimentary form of nonverbal communication was permitted – and only in limited contexts – as a substitute for speech.[15] In a discussion of one medieval Latin record of the Cluniac sign lexicon, Bruce notes that the acknowledged (permitted) “sign for a book written by a pagan author involved a gesture that mimicked a dog scratching its ear because, as the author of the sign lexicon explained, people without faith were comparable with dogs” (64).[16] In this suggestive system of codified gestures, those who are “not like us” – those who inhabit an existence across a boundary of religious difference – are equated with animals. While this exclusionary sentiment effectively dehumanizes other people, this compound sign requires a humbling form of embodied mimicry: a human must enact a silent becoming-animal gesture.

I am still sorting out where essay is going, but in the end I hope to get us out of the false dichotomy of meaningless, inarticulate animal sound vs. rational, transcribable human speech. Rather than reifying species difference or even stabilizing one cultural mode for encoding animal sounds, medieval wordlists and literary texts encourage us to think more creatively about inhabiting that blurry and fuzzy communicative zone where anthropocentric and zoocentric worlds meet, shape, and transform one another.

[1] For an overview of this medieval list tradition, see D. Thomas Benediktson, “Polemius Silvius’ ‘Voces Varie Animacium’ and Related Documents of Animal Sounds.” Mnemosyne LIII, I (2000): 70-79; see also D. Thomas Benediktson, “Cambridge University Library L1 1 14, F. 46r-v: A Late Medieval Natural Scientist at Work.” Neophilologus 86 (2002): 171-177. For an important early study, see Wilhelm Wackernagel, Voces variae animantium. Ein Beitrag zur Naturkunde und zur Geschichte der Sprache (Basel: Bahnmaier, 1869).
[2] Bottom of right hand column: “Ignis crepitat” [fire crackles], “Cursus aquarum murmurat” [running water murmurs].
[3] Although it’s more accurate and nuanced to refer to a distinction between “human and nonhuman animals,” I will simply refer (for the purposes of this venue) to the categories of the “animal” and the “human.” In my usage of these terms I’m more or less trying to follow the lead of Karl Steel, How To Make A Human (Ohio State UP, 2011), 19-20.
[4] It is interesting that this instance of onomatopoeia is polysemic; the “water” radical in the character is an indication of its use in literary contexts to refer to the sound of water (especially when its broad and deep).
[5] Terence E. Hays, “Sound Symbolism, Onomatopoeia, and New Guinea Frog Names.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 4, 2 (1994): 153-174.
[6] Brunet, Jean-Paul. “L’Onomatopee dans la classe de français (Otomatopoeia in the French Class).” Canadian Modern Language Review 45, 1 (October 1988): 139-145.
[7] Imai, Mutsumi, Sotaro Kita, Miho Nagumo, and Hiroyuki Okada. “Sound symbolism facilitates early verb learning.” Cognition 109 (2008): 54-65.
[8] Full passage: “Manega word synd, þe ne magon habban þa twegen forman hadas, ac habbað þonne þriddan: tinnit swegð, pluit rinþ, tonat ðunrað, fulminat hit liht […]. Ealswa be nytenum: canis latrat hunt byreð, lupus ululat wulf ðytt, equus hinnit hors hnaegð, bos mugit oxa hlewð, ouis balat scep bleat, sus grunnit sing runað” [There are many verbs that may not have the first two persons but have the third one: it sounds, it rains, it thunders, it lightens (i.e. lightning strikes) … It is the same way with animals: the dog barks, the dog wolf howls, the horse neighs, the ox lows, the sheep bleats, the pig grunts]. J. Zupitza, Aelfrics Grammatik (Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1880), 128-129.
[9] This is a tangent, but for the voces variae animantium as a memory tool, see Carruthers, Book of Memory, 138, 158-160.
[10] At this point let me just note that I’m well aware that there is a rich scholastic discussion how vox is defined, particularly along the lines of human/animal difference; see for instance Karl’s discussion on ITM a few years ago; see for instance Karl’s book at 20 (note 69) and 49 (note 40); see also Eco, Umberto, R. Lambertini, C. Marmo, and A. Tabarroni. “On animal language in the medieval classification of signs.” In On the Medieval Theory of Signs, ed. Umberto Eco and Costantino Marmo (Philadelphia: Johns Benjamins, 1989), 1-41. At this point, though, I'm trying to avoid scholastic taxonomies of vox articulata and vox inarticulata etc. as I feel that “buying into” such vocabulary too soon can constrain how think about these medieval lists and prevent us from imagining what sort of sonic or sensory worlds such lists might seek to inhabit.
[11] The meaning of “leden” is disputed; in the Riverside Chaucer, 3rd Edn (gen. ed. Benson, Oxford UP, 2008) this word is glossed as “language.” The Middle English Dictionary additionally provides a slightly broader meaning of “speech, utterance” (def. 2a) or an additional definition of birdsong or animal noise (def. 3a and 3b). Robert Boenig and Andrew Taylor (The Canterbury Tales, Broadview, 2008) capitalize the word “Leden” with this explanation: “The term “Latin” here can be taken to mean ‘foreign language,’ since in the Middle Ages Latin was the universal second language” (232, note 2). In this literary context, of course, this polysemic term could mean all of these things simultaneously.
[12] The narrator states that Phebus “taught it [the crowe] speke as men teche a jay … And countrefete the speche of every man/He koude, whan he sholde telle a tale” (132-135).
[13] V.J. Scattergood, The Complete Works of John Clanvowe (Cambridge: Brewer, 1975), 84n124-135. See also Elizabeth Eva Leach, Sung Birds: Music, Nature, and Poetry in the Later Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell, 2007), 244; on “oci” as the stylized song of the nightingale in medieval French culture, see 91.
[14] William Rothwell, ed. Walter de Bibbesworth: Le Tretiz (Aberystwyth: The Anglo-Norman Hub, 2009). In the longer version I will also engage with an excellent article by William Sayers, “Animal vocalization and human polyglossia in Walter of Bibbesworth’s thirteenth-century domestic treatise in Anglo-Norman French and Middle English.” Sign Systems Studies 37, 3/4 (2009): 525-541.
[15] Scott G. Bruce, Silence and Sign Language in Medieval Monasticism: The Cluniac Tradition c. 1900-1200 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
[16] Transcribed in Bruce, footnote 43 (Cluny, no. 73): “Pro signo libri secularis, quem aliquis paganus conposuit, premisso generali signo libri adde, ut aurem cum digito tanga, sicut canis cum peed pruriens solute, quia nec inmerito infidelis tali animanti conparatur” [quoting Signa Loquendi, ed. Jarecki, 134].


Anonymous said...

Dear Jonathan, it's a wonderful document. Your arguments are also very interesting. An excellent book dealing with animal's voices in the ancient world was published in Italy in 2008: Maurizio Bettini, 'Voci. Antropologia sonora del mondo antico'. Maybe you know it. I'm going to give a look to my copy in order to compare ancient and medieval voices ...
Paolo Galloni

i said...

A pleasure to read, and I have a feeling I'll be citing this, or the later version of it, some day.

Here are a few thoughts, Jonathan:

1. Re, this sentence: "Rather than thinking of these pairings as instances of the same animal vocalization replicated divergently in Latin or in the vernacular, I’d like to entertain the possibility that the reader (medieval or modern) is actually invited to process these disparate linguistic units concurrently, approximating in one’s memory to arrive at a zoo-vocalization that can never be transcribed (in any human language or writing system)."

Could you say a little more about this? I'm not sure I understand what you mean. Is this phenomenon different than bilingual word-lists in two "human" languages? And is the idea based on studies or on an experience of yours? I.e., is that what happens in your head when you learn foreign animal noises? (I ask because it doesn't for me -- my L1 is really what dominates my sense of how animals speak, and every other version of the sound, including my L2 mother tongue, sounds incredibly foreign and weird.)

2. I went to the link of animal sounds and looked up those for dogs. They do not have Romanian, which is "ham ham." But you know what I noticed? Romanian is "ham ham," as is Albanian, apparently. Polish is "hau hau." Turkish, "hav hav," Ukrainian "haf haf," Slovene "hov hov." In other words, these languages which share a rough geographical area but have, often, nothing in common linguistically, have similar sounding ways for dogs to speak. On the other hand, West European languages like English, German, French, Spanish, tend to have more of a vocalic start and a pronounced "ow" noise. So I'm wondering -- is animal language actually regional, one of those things that is passed on between neighbouring tongues, perhaps even more easily given that it does not need to fit into any foreign grammatical structures? On that evidence (measly as it is), I'd be disposed to buy the argument that the noises humans imagine animals make work on a different linguistic level than regular bilingualism, one that allows cross-linguistic connections and contaminations of a rather different kind.

Jonathan Hsy said...

@Paolo: Thanks so much for that reference! I should have mentioned that medievalists who have done work on these animal-sound wordlists tend to trace these to Isidore's Etymologies -- but it would stand to reason that there might be deeper, longstanding Classical traditions that could more obliquely inform these medieval Latin lists. I'll def. check that one out!

@i (ooh, I just noticed you had a Romanian cooking blog! cool) - interesting questions. 1. I don't have any studies to base my statement upon, just a general hunch - I'd say that when I hear a dog bark and it doesn't *really* sound like an English "woof" nor Chinese "wang" in my own head - but maybe that has something to do with growing up using both of those languages and being able to think in either one in diff. contexts. What I'm really trying to suggest here is the idea that no human language accurately replicates animal sound, so the animal sound is always going to be something resonating 'beyond' the bounds of any particular human language. 2. Really like your observation/suggestion here about how *neighboring languages* -- even if they aren't "related" to one another -- might mimic a certain animal sound in a similar way. (I think that New Guinea 'frog' article is making a similar speculation.) What I like about this is the idea is that an animal sound itself can force us to re-configure and re-think how we approach (human) contact linguistics: there are other mediating factors that we can use to trace the interplay between vernaculars that take us beyond those nice language-trees we all like to construct.

Karl Steel said...

Hi, finally weighing in. Jon, this is fantastic stuff. Really keen to read more.

Here's some additional stuff to explore -- there's a bit in the Scott Bruce book. From my HtMaH,
"For one peculiar example of this tradition, see the protests of a tenth-century Cluniac monk against his order’s new imitation of the silence of angels: “God did not make me a serpent, so that I should hiss at you, nor did he make me an ox, so that I should bellow, but he made me a man and gave me a tongue so that I might speak!”; from John of Salerno, The Life of Odo of Cluny, 2.23, PL 133:74A, quoted and translated in Scott G. Bruce, Silence and Sign Language in Medieval Monasticism: The Cluniac Tradition, c. 900–1200 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 50."

Susan Crane's discussion of hunting cries in her "Ritual Aspects of the Hunt à Force" in Engaging with Nature, p. 74-75, that takes them as simplified language analogous to way language is simplified to use with foreigners or children: "Think of the tourist in Berlin saying to a taxi driver, not 'we're going to the airport,' but 'airport, airport' hoping that simplifying the message and repeating it will do the trick."

If you want to look outside British examples, you could look to the complaining and snooty messenger raven in the Munich Oswald, translated here: J. W. Thomas, trans. The Strassburg Alexander and the Munich Oswald. Studies in German Literature, Linguistics, and Culture. Camden House: Columbia, South Carolina, 1989, although this isn't so much animal language as an animal character... the same could be said, incidentally, for the bird in the Middle English Bird w/ Four Feathers.

Wonder if Siegfried's understanding of bird language also relevant in some small way?

Gesture is a HUGE topic and will be VERY VERY productive. FWIW, Peggy McCracken and I did a tiny bit on that in our Fish Knights essay in Postmedieval: "Another arduous battle ensues between ‘the two champions’ (‘les deux champions,’ 281), the fish king is wounded, the exhausted combatants fall exhausted to the ground, and the fish king makes signs of peace, ‘speaking’ through gesture. This is a language common to the supposedly irrational ‘mute beasts’ of medieval romance, one of a host of examples asking that limitrophic (Derrida, 2008, 29–30) appraisals of barriers between the linguistic and nonlinguistic might attend to organs other than the tongue" (90-91)

Jonathan Hsy said...

@Karl: So glad to see you chime in here (and hope you are recovering from Sandy OK!) - I knew you'd have lots of great suggestions! This is all VERY much appreciated. I'll take a look at the other bits of Bruce (it is interesting that thinking about nonhuman language means looking 'up' to angels or 'down' to animals, huh?) and great to have some leads beyond Britain. Yes - speaking via gesture and "organs other than the tongue" is *exactly* the sort of thing I wanted to try and think about, so I'll take another look at that pm piece you and Peggy wrote.

P.S. That bit from Crane re: hunting cries (sparse, simplified syntax) reminds me a lot of the work of on human contact linguistics and pidgin languages - I wonder if hunting cries can be conceived as a sort of inter-species pidgin? Cool cool.

Anonymous said...

Voces animancium is based upon Svetonius (Leonum est fremere vel rugire, tigridum rancare, pardorum felire, pantherarum caurire, ursorum uncare vel saevire, aprorum frendere, lyncum urcare, luporum ululare, serpentium sibilare, onagrorum. mugilare, cervorum rugire, boum mugire, equorum. hinnire, asinorum rudere vel oncare, porcorum grunnire, verrium quiritare, arietum blatterare, ovium balare, hircorum miccire, haedorum bebare, canum latrare seu baubari, vulpium gannire, catulorum glattire, leporum vagire, mustelarum drindrare, murium mintrire vel pipitare, soricum desticare, elephantum barrire, ranarum coaxare, corvorum crocitare, aquilarum clangere, accipitrum plipiare, vulturum pulpare, miluorum lupire vel lugere, olororum drensare, gruum gruere, ciconiarum crotolare, anserum gliccire vel sclingere, anatum tetrissitare, pavonum paupulare, graculorum fringulire, noctuarum. cuccubire, cuculorum cuculare, merularum frendere vel zinziare, turdorum trucilare vel soccitare, sturnorum passitare, hirundinum fintinnire vel minurrire (dicunt tamen quod minurrire est omnium minutissimarum avicularum), gallinarum crispire, passerum titiare, apium bombire vel bombilare, cicadarum fritinnire.
Caius Svetonio Tranquillus. Liber de naturis rerum), but after a selction and, above all, the addition of new voices from 'natural world'. O think it's a significnt innovation: humans are invited not just to zoovocalise, but also to vegetal/mineral vocalizing.
And, I guess that hunting criyng could also be intended as inter species pidgin - nice argument.
Paolo Galloni

Robert Stanton said...

Wonderful stuff, Jonathan. I’ve often used animal-sound lists when I teach History of the English Language, to explain the problematic status of “onomatopoeia” as a category of signification and the subtle ways in which geographical and cultural differences can manifest themselves in small linguistic changes. Your work will definitely help bring these challenging issues into the classroom even more forcefully. So thanks for that!

I’m not totally sure whether this point will go with your ideas about communication and articulacy, but your take on intra-species communication in Clanvowe (the English cuckoo and French nightingale) sparked some thoughts about the many occasions and modes in which writers within one (perceived dominant) culture denigrate the language of another (perceived inferior) culture by representing it as animal noise, i.e., instinctive, non-intellectualized communication (i.e., Priscian’s inarticulate vox). One thinks of the disputed etymology of "barbarian" and words such as babble, jabber, twitter, natter, witter, etc., which purport to be onomatopoeic and hence constitutive of non-civilized speech. A small footnote, perhaps, to your more central speculations about near-hits, near-misses, slippages, and unexpected correspondences between species utterances.

At the moment I’m working on embodied sound in the Old English Exeter Book Riddles; in the riddle genre, the question of voice and signification is complicated considerably by the spectral role of the riddler and the guessing hearer/reader (i.e., the place of meaning and the centrality of the meaning-maker are always in question). In the “say what I am” animal riddles, the multiple ways a poet and riddler can signify, or create meaning, mix with the mysterious ways in which speaking animals make themselves understood (at the surface, in poetic lines). The most interesting is Riddle 24 (Krapp-Dobbie numbering; jay or magpie), which is short enough to present here. The text is from Paull Baum’s version, online

Ic eom wunderlicu wiht - wræsne mine stefne:
hwilum beorce swa hund, hwilum blæte swa gat,
hwilum græde swa gos, hwilum gielle swa hafoc.
Hwilum ic onhyrge þone haswan earn,
guðfugles hleoþor; hwilum glidan reorde
muþe gemæne, hwilum mæwes song,
þær ic glado sitte. (giefu) mec nemnað,
swylce (æsc) ond (rad) (os) fullesteð,
(hægl) ond(is). Nu ic haten eom
swa þa siex stafas sweotule becnaþ.

(the bracketed parts are runes)

I’m a wonderful thing; I vary my voice:
I bark like a dog, I bleat like a goat,
I quack like a goose, I shriek like a hawk;
I imitate the eagle, the gray one, the cry
Of the fighting bird; sometimes the kite’s voice
is familiar to my mouth, or the sea-mew’s song,
where I happily sit. GIFT is my name,
OAK and RIDING and the GOD helps,
HAIL and ICE. Now you have my name,
as those six letters clearly betoken.

(sorry, no runes)
Anyway, it’s a nice little dynamic catalogue of OE animal noises.

And finally (this is why I love teaching HEL), I remember reading somewhere that the word "bleat" is an example of the Great Vowel Shift. Sheep and goats, we understand, make low and middle vowel sounds, and OE blǣtan (occurring only in Ælfric’s Grammar, this riddle, and glosses on balatus or grunnire) sounds about right for those two beasts. But when the vowel got raised, it became separated from its animal sound. If I were a Marxist or New Age linguist, I would spin a theory about the linguistic erasure of sheep and goat agency in the Early Modern period…

Jonathan Hsy said...

@Robert: Wow, what a great poem! Love this idea of working onomatopoeia and these wordlists into HEL courses. It seems to have dropped out of my blog posting, but I originally had a statement to the effect that an Anglo-Saxon sheep isn't recorded as sounding the same as a modern English sheep (with the idea that animal mimicry within "one" language must also be historicized); the way you put it -- "linguistic erasure of sheep and goat agency" via the GVS -- is right on the mark actually, and doesn't strike me as too New Agey.

Your point about denigration of (inferior/alien) languages by conflation with animal sound is well-taken. This essay orig. started out with Wace's description of the Conquest, when the Normans perceive the English as barking like dogs. Somehow I found I'm more drawn to moments of partial or near-intelligiblity rather than assertions of difference. I guess that's why the Clanvowe bit intrigues me -- it's the *dominant* prestige language (French) that's encoded as "nyse" here, and the act of translation that takes place says a lot about the bivernacularity of the people in the Clanvowe/Chaucer etc. orbit.

Hope you don't mind, but I'm *totally* going to incorporate that poem into my future HEL courses! (And if you've written anything on embodied sound already, let me know!)

Jonathan Hsy said...

Oh and @Paolo, thanks for the additional Svetonius citation!

Robert Stanton said...

Please do! I'm just starting into this project and will be talking about it at this conference:
No program up yet, but it's going to be pretty cool, including Julie Orlemanski talking about Margery Kempe's noise and the etiological imagination. Doesn't get much better than that!

Jeb said...

I would recommend reading Bretha Crolige (Judgments on bloodlying)

ed and trans by D.A Binchy (on jstor) in particular the conrechta (the dog/wolf with a human voice) and confeal (the howling one). They get up to some interesting speech acts. Early Irish legal text.

I am reading at the moment a much later work, french translation from 1740

A philosophical amusement upon the language of beasts and birds (up at archive org.)

Discuss points you have raised, some karl made and a number of subjects that pop up in posts here. Its rather interesting

Interesting post thanks.

Jonathan Hsy said...

@Robert: Ooh ooh! That sounds *really* great - perhaps I can figure out a way to make it up there.

By the way, what's up with all the cool conferences happening in Boston this academic year? I was just up there BABEL and will be heading up to Boston again present to papers at MLA and NeMLA...

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Really wonderful post, Jonathan -- rich, with lots to chew over. I've nothing to add but a personal anecdote that sprang to mind in your description of animal sound lists as a kind of multilingualism. When I was first in graduate student I lived in a dorm with a fairly international cohort of fellow grad students from many different disciplines. A good icebreaker at gatherings was to have people name the sound that different animals made in their native language. The game was a success for communalizing because it was a noncompetitive way for anxious (and overly competitive) grad students to bond over differences, with nothing at stake other than a little more intimacy.

Jeb said...

The fish sings. As do rivers.

Interesting post!

With certain species you are looking at both natural and non-natural sound landscapes often with a tangled relationship.

The song of fish, sirens, city's beneath the seas. All ring like bells.

Oorie Cooleeroo Cradoo is the sound heard in Ceylon from the 'crying shell' described by Europeans as the sound of a harp or a wine glass when rubbed by a moistened finger, a watery sound.

But similarity/ differences between natural and non-natural/preternatural species of sound and cultural transmission/reception/ memory.

An interesting one I think.

Robert Stanton said...

Jonathan: a bit of biblio you probably know about, but just in case...Lia Formigari, _A History of Language Philosophies_ (John Benjamins, 2004). It's quite brief, but beautifully lucid and synthetic, and has an excellent bibliography.

Jonathan Hsy said...

Robert: Thanks! I hadn't come across that one yet; I'll add this to my list...

i said...

A later comment on a post that has stuck in my mind. My one-year old son is at the stage where he makes a lot of repeated syllables, some of which sound like words, but which don't really seem to have the indexicality (is that a word?) of real words. He's growing up in a trilingual environment, so it'll be a while before he speaks, I expect, and he also does not tend to repeat words when we suggest it to him.

However, one thing he has been good at repeating, at least in the past week, are animal sounds. They don't even have to be real animal sounds. A lion puppet that roars now elicits my son's own little "ooo." I downloaded a Romanian app for my iPad that shows pictures of animals, names them, plays a recording of the sound they make, then a recording of a man imitating the sound. Suddenly, my kid is imitating some of the animals. This morning he tried howling back at a dog.

I haven't read anything on this, though I'm sure there's some research out there on it. Everything I've read on child language has been in a strictly human context. But at least with our kid, he seems better able immediately to imitate animal noises. (I'm not talking about accuracy so much as immediacy.) I wonder if there's something to this in the context of language learning that our medieval educators recognized...