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Seminar: End rhyme in Aboriginal sung poetry, Myf Turpin, 7 May

Date: 6 May 2019

Seminar: End rhyme in Aboriginal sung poetry

Speaker: Myfany Turpin, The University of Sydney

When: 7 May, 10.30am-11.30am

Where: Banks (Building 44), Room 236 (Seminar Room 2, on the top floor of the building), ANU


Rhyme is said to be absent in some regions of Aboriginal Australia (Toner 2001:145); however, end rhyme as described here is widespread in central Australia, crossing genres, languages and linguistic subgroups. In many ways the sound patterning is typical of rhyme (Peust 2014:343, Fabb 2019). It occurs regularly in line-final position, marking off each of the four lines of the quatrain through an ABBA  or ‘enclosed’ schema. Second, it consists of phonetic identity of an open syllable nucleus: the open front vowel [a] at the end of lines 1 and 4; and the diphthong [ei] at the end of lines 2 and 3. The rhyming words are sometimes identical and sometimes different (Fabb 2015). 

                                                  orthography   IPA

      Line 1         …e                 [a]

      Line 2         …aye             [ei]

      Line 3         …aye             [ei]

      Line 4         …e                 [a]

Figure 1 End rhyme in the quatrain verse of many central Australian songs.

Unlike most rhyme where words are selected for their vowel quality, in central Australian sung poetry, the rhyme is imposed, overriding the quality of the vowel in the speech word, e.g. arrenye ‘yonder’ -> arrenyaye. Here we can draw a comparison with the English folk song ‘The Fox’ (cf. Bishop & Roud 2012, no 110), where the sound 'o' is added to the last word of the fourth line. Thus, instead of 'town' we have ‘town-o’, instead of ‘bones’, ‘bones-o’, etc. Both patterns are parallelistic and deviant (Blohm et al 2018:42), two charcteristic features of verbal art.

This paper suggests that end rhyme may assist singers to navigate one’s place in the multi-vocal repeating verse which has no fixed beginning or end and where each syllable has no fixed pitch, as the much longer melody cycles independently. From a psychological perspective, sound patterning is said to facilitate memorization and recall. In addition, it leads to aesthetic appeal and emotional impact  because we form expectations of what will happen (Fabb 2019). From a physiological perspective, the dipthong may assist to sustain a pitch on a long note. The added feature of duration in song raises the question of whether diphthongisation and more broadly imposed sound patterning might be more characteristic of song rather than poetry.

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