17 October 2009

Waking #2: Cantonese Ear Worm

Description: I wake up in the morning with an ear worm running through my head. This is a technical term, from the delightful German Ohrwurm, for a song that gets stuck running in your head. This is fine enough, not unusual, except that the song seems to be in a language I do not know how to speak, namely Cantonese. At least that is what I would say: I don't know any of the various Chinese languages, but the song I am hearing has the distinctive "shr she" pitched syllables that, when I hear spoken, get me to think "this is Chinese"; and I'm thinking what I most hear spoken in Toronto and Montreal when I hear Chinese is Cantonese.

Anyway, this appears to be a (let's say) Cantonese cover of "Killing Me Softly With His Song", the first two phrases. I think that this must have to do with the very convivial dinner I had with a bunch of friends in the Chinese Restaurant de Bonheur the other night. It's some sort of recent memory based ear worm. Significantly, at this dinner, one of my friends was speaking in Chinese with the waiters, and also saying how his Chinese wasn't very good, but I remember that at the time I was listening along with him in the way of wanting to be able to speak his language.

Question: What does this mean about the ear worm phenomenon and about our memory for song, voice, language? That I can remember a song in a language I do not know? It seems clear to me, and right in the experience of 'hearing' this ear worm in the morning and trying to figure out what the heck is going on, that I am not actually remembering "Cantonese as she is sung" (here playing on a Portugese-English dictionary/primer that James Joyce liked, titled English as She is Spoke), as I do not know the language, and if I had to sing my ear worm aloud, I should just be doing a crude parody of Cantonese. Yet, there is something distinctively Cantonese, or Cantonese recalling, about the tune. Part of it two is the voice--female, sweet, with, in terms of sound, the kind of echoey, rolley, overproduced schmalziness that would seem part and parcel of all covers of "Killing Me Softley" in any language. But there is also the tone and sound of a particular language in this ear worm of mine. This is Your Brain on Music links the ear worm phenomenon in particular to timbre. Is this phenomenon speaking to that kind of point: to have an ear worm is not to as it were have the score of song run through your head playing an internal MIDI orchestra, rendered in a language you know, but to be thrust into the timbre and sound of a song--including its language?

If so, this might suggest we have 'an ear for' the sound/timbre of language, caught up in our ear for music. Is this related to learning language? Babies wake up in the morning with ear worms for yesterday's spoken phrases? Do they first hear speech as prosody? Need to read up on the literature on 'motherese'.

In any case I highly recommend the hot pot with fish and Chinese pickled cabbage in spicy sauce at Restaurant de Bonheur. Unusual combination of ingredients, I think there's some anise or cumin in there together with the hot peppers, very spicey and cozy. I think it's the best soup in Montreal, great for winter, something like a substitute for soon tofu at Clinton and Bloor in Toronto, given that there is nothing nearly as good soon tofu-wise in Montreal, as far as my investigations have revealed. Should you have soon tofu recommendations for Montreal, please comment.

No comments:

Post a Comment