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Pronunciation

kevgermany

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Not a sax question, but my wife's singing Britten's Ceremony of Carols no. 6, This Little Babe. The question How should 'sound' be pronounced in the following two lines?:

And thus as sure his foe to wound,
The angels' trumps alarum sound
 

Vlad

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Probably as written in the normal way, poets etc used 'para rhyme' or 'half rhyme' in lots of things ( popular device in WW1 war poems I seem to recall )
...although in many cases it's probably really 'cos they just couldn't think of anything that rhymes properly :)
 

Jeanette

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Perhaps you should consider how to pronounce wound ;)

Jx
 

kevgermany

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Did, but didn't want to confuse things. I'm sure Ron will be along with an erudite well reasoned answer soon.
 

Tenor Viol

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Thanks Kev :headscratch:

Britten often set Medieval texts, where pronunciation is often significantly different from modern pronunciation, which is the case here. I've sung this, but that movement I think is for women's voices only? Unusually, I haven't got a copy of the score, which I usually do for items I've sung. I think there are two options:

  • It's, as noted by Vlad a case of a 'visual' rhyme (both 'ound') but not a heard one
  • Or, the pronunciation of wound is changed to rhyme with sound
Less likely is making sound to rhyme with wound.

The text is: This little Babe" from Robert Southwell's "Newe Heaven, Newe Warre", 1595

We need a Middle English specialist to answer this one!
 

kevgermany

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Thanks. In the meanwhile she found a good British choir's performance on Youtube. They kept to normal pronunciation for the two words, wound almost disappears in the performance as the voices there are staggered a beat apart, but all are on the same beat for sound.

Not my sort of thing, I don't think I'll be going to the performance.
 

old git

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Should the "u" be sounded in "alarum" or is it only there for scansion?

Never had this problem with my melodeon.
 

Pete Thomas

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Why not just sing the whole thing in a Scottish accent?
 

kernewegor

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The central phoneme in both <sound> and <wound> was pronounced the same in Middle English (similar to <wound> in many dialects today) hence the same grapheme used for both.

The sound is commonly represented today in many words by <oo> - but beware the pronunciation of <wool> etc... This is why the 'phonics' teaching of English promoted by the Department of Education is doomed to failure... English orthography is simply not phonemic... there are clearly no linguists in charge of policy in the DoE... which is I suppose why the teaching of second languages is so abysmal...

'Alarum' (found in Shakespeare's stage directions ( ' alarums and excursions') was trisyllabic. I guess that Britten meant it to be pronounced as such, but I don't know the piece.

I hasten to add that I am not an expert on the phonology of English but have studied various aspects relevant to interference in Cornish and other Celtic languages.

'Interference' as a linguistic term is not pejorative, but describes the phenomenon of sounds in one language affecting the sounds of another for whatever reason.

BTW, to show the craziness resulting from using an orthography based on borrowings from many different languages and many different historical periods (when pronunciation went through changes, but old spellings reflecting earlier pronunciation were retained...) consider the word FISH.

This could equally well be spelled GHOTI using English present day orthographic convention and the pronunciation found in many dialects - including Received Pronunciation aka 'Standard English' (which hasn't remained static, changing many times since the 1930s - the International Phonetic Alphabet transcriptions found indictionaries are always hopelessly out of date....)

Behold:

<gh> as in 'enough'
<o> as in 'women'
<ti> as in 'motion'

There is a joke about a businessman arriving at Heathrow anxious to try out his newly acquired English speaking skills and immediately climbing on the next plane home after seeing a newspaper vendor's sign which said CABINET RESHUFFLE PRONOUNCED SUCCESS...

It all whiles away an idle hour...
 

kevgermany

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Paul, thanks. Introduces more problems.... But better to know about it.
 

kernewegor

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I'll add a caveat to what I wrote.

I said that <alarum> was trisyllabic according to Shakespeare's spelling. Certainly all dialects of English were rhotic at least up to Middle English times, and his spelling shows this.

One can hear three syllables in many Irish dialects today, and Lewis Carrol gives an example of a rhotic 'r' creating an extra syllable in 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland where Pat, the gardener exclaims: "Sure, it's an arm, yer honour!' (He pronounces it arrum.)" - the 'r' actually gives rise to a dipthong, running from 'r' to 'u' before finishing on the consonant 'm'.

However in many dialects in Scotland the rhotic 'r' , instead of creating an extra syllable, is instead a long consonant. In attempts to indicate Scottish dialect in literature it may be spelled <arrrm> <alarrrm> etc.

Other rhotic dialects of English - as we have in Cornwall - also have a longer consonant sound than in non-rhotic dialects (RP, so-called 'Standard English', SE English dialects and so on) rather than a dipthong ...generally speaking...

Now, the point of this is - was Shakespeare attempting to indicate a rhotic 'r' giving, in effect, a discrete syllable, or did he mean by it merely a longer consonant? Likewise, what did Britten intend?

Visually, the spelling <alarum> would appear to indicate three syllables, but one can't be sure - attempts to indicate sounds accurately by using English scribal tradition and orthography is littered with ambiguous examples, and what one writer might use to indicate one thing, another writer may use to mean something quite different... and the same writer might use different spellings for the same thing from time to time, or develop a favourite spelling... or six. Shakespeare spelled his name in several different ways....

Were I an expert on English phonology I might be able to say with more precision (and possibly get it wrong... scholarship is always changing its mind - or as scholars say, 'advancing') but at least I think that outlines the problem.

Personally, I'd plump for whichever fits the music best. If it could go either way, I might toss a coin...

Incidentally, German has a highly phonemic orthography, even better after the tweaks of a couple of decades (?) ago... giving the choir the words spelled according to German orthographic convention could be a good plan.... a little time on a laptop could save a lot of time in rehearsals, maybe...

One final point - <a> in <alarum> (both of them) would be pronounced similarly to <a> in <apple> <actual> etc. (but not the rather old fashioned RP "epple" and "ectual") in some dialects... but not in others.... where it might sound more like the (current) RP <are> (where the <r> isn't actually pronounced!!)

You can end up going around in circles with English pronunciation...
 
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David Dorning

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Perhaps you should consider how to pronounce wound ;)

Jx

I remember seeing a group of Mummers years ago who made the most of the line "Is there a doctor to be found to cure this deep and deadly wound?" It was a slapstick gift to them, they totally hammed it up and all permutations were explored thoroughly. They would probably have made good use of "Angels' trumps" too.
 
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