[Lingtyp] Default expression for singing ("la la la")

Jess Tauber tetrahedralpt at gmail.com
Fri Jul 22 14:40:33 UTC 2022

In Yahgan (genetic isolate from Tierra del Fuego, recently extinct), the
generic term for 'sing' is ta:pvlisa:na (colon marks tenseness of vowel
preceding it, and v is schwa). But there are a couple of terms for more
specific TYPES of singing (for example low pitched droning, or high-pitched

u:ili   intr.vb. To sway backwards and forwards, as tall trees in a breeze,
s. i. To rise and fall in cadences. The voice or singing of the chomux ((a
small bird)) when it arrives in the spring. Tremulous, vibrate. To vibrate,
tremulous, as the voice of one under excitement,
And chilli (same root): intr. vb. To sway, as a high slen- der mast in a
stiff breeze, or as the tops of tall trees.

ukuliseta i. a. High, squeaky, of voice. To be high pitched. To rise high.
And serialized vb. ukulisat-haina i. To rise, to raise the voice to a
shrill pitch. To sing high.

Note also u:da:pvla  intr.vb  To prance. To have a rough movement in
running, as some horses which shake their riders much. To move the body up
and down, as aven- gers do when acting, as tho under some evil spell, or as
persons do when laughing violently, Probably etymologically related to

u:tume:ata i. To sing with a deep, steady, and lengthened strain,

Morphological notes- verb prefix u:- is a permissive-causative voice
marker, so 'let'. Verb suffix -ana is usually marks a state. And verb
suffix -ata has several functions, including Aktsionsart (semelfactive).
The e: in u:tu:me:ata is from -i as final vowel of the root.

Data source- Yamana-English Dictionary 1933 (1987 reprint).

Jess Tauber


On Fri, Jul 22, 2022 at 10:06 AM Jess Tauber <tetrahedralpt at gmail.com>

> Not in the languages I've looked at. However, from the perspective of
> phonosemantics, there does seem to be a tendency for words for 'sing' to at
> least contain segments whose iconic mappings represent the notion of
> sinusoidal (or similar cyclic) wave types, types of reverberation or
> vibration, etc. For many languages these are liquids, but not all. In
> Muskogean languages from northern Gulf of Mexico, it is /n/ that has this
> sense, rather than a liquid. But the sense of /n/ in these languages isn't
> limited to sound- it refers to ANY sort of reverberation, continued
> rotation, or vibration.
> Jess Tauber
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> On Fri, Jul 22, 2022 at 3:14 AM JOO, Ian [Student] <
> ian.joo at connect.polyu.hk> wrote:
>> Dear all,
>> In most languages, does the default expression for singing consist of
>> repeated CV syllables with coronal sonorant onset + low vowel nucleus?
>> In other words, is it mostly la la la, na na na, etc.?
>> I assume that it's because it’s the least marked syllable with the
>> greatest amplitude?
>> From Hong Kong,
>> Ian
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