[Lingtyp] query: cumulative songs

Luigi Talamo luigi.talamo at uni-saarland.de
Wed Mar 15 11:20:51 UTC 2023

```Dear David,
following the very first reply by Edoardo on this query, this is the last stanza of Branduardi's Alla fiera dell'est:

E infine il Signore, sull'angelo della morte, sul macellaio
Che uccise il toro, che bevve l'acqua, che spense il fuoco
Che bruciò il bastone, che picchiò il cane, che morse il gatto
Che si mangiò il topo che al mercato mio padre comprò
Alla fiera dell'est, per due soldi, un topolino mio padre comprò

"And finally the Lord, on the angel of death, on the butcher
Who killed the bull, who drank the water, who put out the fire
Who burned the stick, who beat the dog, who bit the cat
Who ate the mouse that at the market my father bought
At the eastern fair, for two pennies, a mouse my father bought"

As you can see, there is indeed in the Italian text a syntactic recursion of the relative clause, which reaches an astounding 8th level of embedding. As an interesting side note, Alla fiera dell'est is often quoted in undergraduate courses in Linguistics in Italy as an example of recursion.

Best,
Luigi

Dr. Luigi Talamo - Post doc

Universität des Saarlandes
Language Science and Technology
Campus A2.2,  Dienstzimmer 1.18
66123 Saarbrücken

> On 13. Feb 2023, at 15:27, Juergen Bohnemeyer <jb77 at buffalo.edu> wrote:
>
> Dear David – Fwiw, the Cinco cacao story does involve a form of syntactic recursion, though whether it involves recursive embedding is another matter.  With every new character, the old woman recounts the growing backstory as rationale for their appointed mission. This results in a chain of causal clauses. At its peak, the chain comprises nine causal clauses:
>  ‘Deer, go kick me the old cow, because the old cow, she doesn’t want to kick me the old mule, because the old mule, she doesn’t want to kick me the old cow, because the old cow, she doesn’t want to drink water, because the water, it doesn’t want to put out the fire, because the fire, it doesn’t want to burn the wood for me, because the wood, it doesn’t want to hit me the dog, because the dog, it doesn’t want to bite me the cat, because the cat, it doesn’t want to catch me the mouse, because the mouse, it stole five cacao from me.’
>  However, I do not consider these clauses to be embedded. Briefly, the evidence is that the sequence involves lots of overtly marked topicalizations, represented as left-dislocations in the translation above.
>  HTH! -- Juergen
>  Juergen Bohnemeyer (He/Him)
> Professor, Department of Linguistics
> University at Buffalo
>
> Office: 642 Baldy Hall, UB North Campus
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> There’s A Crack In Everything - That’s How The Light Gets In
> (Leonard Cohen)
> --
>   From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf of David Gil <gil at shh.mpg.de>
> Date: Monday, February 13, 2023 at 8:14 AM
> To: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
> Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] query: cumulative songs
> Dear all,
> Thanks for all the nice examples of cumulative songs, and do please keep them coming in.
> I have already learned an important thing from the responses so far.  While cumulative songs and stories seem to be widespread around the world, they kind of recursive syntactic embedding accompanying such cumulation that is found in the likes of "House that Jack Built" and "Had Gadya", seems to have a much narrower distribution, and so far no examples have come to light from other "non-WEIRD" parts of the world.  Are there really no such cases from elsewhere?
> I would like to be able to conclude that such syntactic recursion is a characteristic feature of WEIRD languages and cultures, but am sticking my neck out in order to invite counterexamples ...
> Best,
> David
>  On 12/02/2023 16:13, David Gil wrote:
> Dear all,
> A cumulative song is one in which each unit, or stanza, introduces an additional layer of syntactic embedding, such as the following ...
> This is the house that Jack built.
> This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.
> This is the rat that ate the malt
> That lay in the house that Jack built.
> This is the cat
> That killed the rat that ate the malt
> That lay in the house that Jack built.
> This is the dog that worried the cat
> That killed the rat that ate the malt
> That lay in the house that Jack built.
> ... and so forth.  Perhaps the earliest example of a cumulative song is the Jewish Aramaic hymn Had Gadya.
> My query: Is anybody familiar with examples of cumulative songs from other non-WEIRD cultures and languages.  While my main interest is in "indigenous" attestations, I would also be interested in successful adaptations and translations of western cumulative songs into other languages.
> (Background to the query: I am interested in exploring variation in the propensity of different languages to make use of syntactic embedding.  My focus is on languages such as Malay/Indonesian, which have various tools to construct embedded clauses but generally choose not to make use of them in natural discourse.  I would like to test the hypothesis that such cumulative songs are absent or otherwise less successful in such languages.)
> Thanks,
> David
>  --
> David Gil
>
> Senior Scientist (Associate)
> Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
> Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
> Deutscher Platz 6, Leipzig, 04103, Germany
>
> Email: gil at shh.mpg.de
> Mobile Phone (Israel): +972-526117713
> Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-082113720302
>
> --
> David Gil
>
> Senior Scientist (Associate)
> Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
> Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
> Deutscher Platz 6, Leipzig, 04103, Germany
>
> Email: gil at shh.mpg.de
> Mobile Phone (Israel): +972-526117713
> Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-082113720302
>
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