Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Ta Da!

From "Horizontal Language":

     Japanese separates vowels, employing hiatus where we might use  diphthong or composites.  For example, where we hear one syllable with one vowel sound in "bike" the Japanese will hear three abbreviated sounds:

"Bu-" as in "but" + "eek" as in "...a mouse!" + exhalation, like a schwa

      In Japanese prosody a mora is an "on":  a vowel sound with or without a consonant--but no more than one consonant--sound.  The style of haiku with 5-7-5 "syllables" actually has 5-7-5 "sounds" (or tempi, moras or "on").

     In the first stanza of "Beans" we learned one way to lend a sense of finality to our endings: 

September came like winter's
ailing child but
left us
viewing Valparaiso's pride. Your face was
always saddest when you smiled. You smiled as every
doctored moment lied. You lie with
orphans' parents, long

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #13
     See how, of the many two-syllable words, only the last one fits the base [in this case, iambic, de-DUM] rhythm?  This is called [classical] diaeresis.  Today we're going to look at a way of adding finality or its opposite, suspense, to the ends of our thoughts, phrases, sentences, stanzas, poems, paragraphs, jokes, stories, reports or pieces.  World class comedians and Japanese prosodists understand this technique but it is largely unknown or overlooked elsewhere.

     Japanese is a language made up of vowels broken by single consonantal sounds.  A word like "sandman" wouldn't exist in such environs.  Too many consonantal sounds mashed together with no intervening vowel.  Thus, "syllables" in Japanese, when they have a consonant at all, are either vowel-consonant or consonant-vowel, like "ape" versus "pay" in English.  Over the centuries, prosodists have discovered that this order leaves an effect on the listener that spans language and culture.

     Consider these two old punch lines:

1. Diplomacy:

     The ability to tell a person to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.

2. How do you get Arts graduates off your porch?

     Pay them for the pizza.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #138
     Audiences will understand and laugh at the first joke immediately.  It comes with an air of arrival, decisiveness, completion.  The impact of the second joke won't be as instantaneous.  It requires a little processing, lending an iota of doubt to the proceedings.  Will your friends get it?  [Yes, but give them a moment.]

     Note that the last word of the first joke is "trip", ending in a close-lipped hard consonant, "p".  The second culminates in "pizza", with an open-mouth vowel sound.  Sudden, brief consonant sounds (e.g. b, d, g in "get", k/q, p, t) are decisive, conclusive, terminal.  This we call "cardus" (adjective:  "cardic").  It is along the lines of adding an exclamation mark.

     Longer vowel sounds (e.g. a, e, i, o, u, y, and consonants producing vowel sounds:  h, w and r) lend a more nuanced sense of uncertainty, implication or progression.  This we call "pembrus" (adjective:  "pembric").  It is similar to using ellipses, minus the melodrama. 

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #178
     Between these two extremes are endings with longer consonantal sounds such as f, j or g as in "judge", m, n, s, v, x, z and the "zh" sound in "pleasure".  These don't produce either effect.

     Because they involve vowel sounds, all pembric endings are open (i.e. produced without closures in the throat or mouth).  Other terminations can be open, involving an exhalation like the "e"/schwa ending "Porsche".  To illustrate, the Japanese word "on" is pronounced like "I own this" as opposed to saying "the letter 'n'", where many speakers will aspirate a short, almost indetectable "uh" after the "n".  In the preambulatory quote from "Horizontal Language" [above] we saw "bike" as an open cardus.  This blunts the cardic effect, as combining consonantal sounds does.  For example, the author of "Beans" used "reviled" to ameliorate the hard stanza break.  Had it ended the poem she might have used another term (e.g. "abhorred", but fitting the rhyme scheme).

     Speaking of DPK, "Heartbreaker" (generally regarded as her worst poem) illustrates pembrus:

Let us speak of rumors first. The pallid truth can wait till later.
Did she kneel before a rosary of priests behind the chapel?
Lenny says she loved a man too many. Freddy White went further,

saying she would writhe to any occasion; she would consummate her
nightly nuptials, leaving each new orchard after biting every apple.
It will rain champagne before I tell you that I loved her.

     The pronoun "her" is made up entirely of vowel sounds:  h, schwa, r.  Despite the warning in the first sentence, the truth comes as a surprise after all of this salacious gossip.  It doesn't end the reading of the story;  it commences the rereading.

     Take a new look at some of your favorite poems and speeches.  See how often and how deftly great poets and orators use pembrus and cardus.

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