To be presented at the Annual Meeting of the German Society of Linguistics (DgfS)
(28 Feb 2007 – 2 Mar 2007)
Jonathan G. Secora Pearl
Department of Linguistics
University of California, Santa Barbara
Abstract: “Varieties of Czech Prosody, a century ago and today”.
In 1897, the Czech composer and pedagogue Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) began a journey into the field of speech prosody, eventually spanning the final three decades of his life. (Pearl 2006) His procedure involved detailed observation of natural phenomena, and a good deal of confidence in his own intuitions. For more than 30 years he eavesdropped, often clandestinely, on the conversations of those around him, recording their utterances in the system most familiar to him, musical notation. These efforts are remarkable for a variety of reasons: because they captured a great many nuances of natural speech, some of which are lost by contemporary transcription techniques; because they have been all but ignored over the ensuing century; because they represent some of the earliest and most extensive attempts to concurrently describe the melody and rhythm of speech prosody, permitting the possibility to explore matters of diachronic change.
Janáček worked mostly with the Czech language, but also Russian, Slovak, Croatian, German, English, Italian, and others. His transcriptions provide us a glimpse into the everyday speech of a century ago, which otherwise might be lost, due to a dearth of audio recordings, and the poor quality of what does exist. I will begin my talk with a presentation of some of Janáček’s transcriptions of Czech, including discussion of the benefits and pitfalls of a music-based transcriptional system, then follow with presentation of modern-day recordings of spontaneous spoken Czech, along with the author’s prosodic transcriptions of these selections, which build on Janáček’s procedure, yet exploit today’s technologies and software, to describe melodic and rhythmic features of contemporary spoken Czech.
Pearl, J. (2006), “Eavesdropping with a Master: Leoš Janáček and the Music of Speech,” Empirical Musicology Review Vol. 1, No. 3.