October 17, 2019

What is the singing equivalent of "speech"?

The word 'speech' can mean 'manner of speaking.' This is useful when talking about "analyzing's someone speech." However, there is no equivalent single word for 'manner of singing.' I suppose you could use 'song,' as in "analyzing someone's song," but that doesn't sound right. I've used roundabout descriptions before like "vocal style" and "singing style," but these have a connotation of analyzing the musical qualities of song as opposed to the linguistic qualities.

I have thought about simply coining a new term, such as "songspeech." This would make it easy to say "John uses this pronunciation in his speech, but a different one in his songspeech." But "songspeech" appears (rarely) as a translation of the operatic term "sprechstimme" and refers to a style half between singing and speaking, which is not what I'm talking about at all. (1, 2, 3). There is also "SongSpeech," used in 1970 to refer to "the singing of old and new political songs." Although these terms are rare enough that I could attempt to co-opt them, I would rather not risk confusion.

There's the classic "borrow from another language." Or perhaps just borrow one word. "Songsprache" came to mind, but apparently it means "song language" as in, "a language that is suited for singing." Not what I was looking for either. The one that really works is "canto," from Spanish meaning "singing." But alas, canto has a different meaning in English. What about 'chant'? That one, much like 'cant', also refers to speaking. I suppose cantus is free, but must we go to the Latin straight away? It always sounds a little pretentious to dig up Latin words and use them willy-nilly in English.

Perhaps there is no one word-alternative to "speech." No simple or elegant way to say "in his speech as in his [songspeech/cantus], John likes rounded vowels." And even if you try using the more unwieldy "in his speech as in his song/manner of singing," it doesn't seem to point at what I want to point. "His song," by force of habit, seems to point to a single work, to an actual song, as opposed to a pattern of singing. If I, the person writing this, find it ambiguous, I can't imagine it would be any clearer for those reading it.

Luckily, a kind Redditor introduced me to the contrasting terms spoken speech versus sung speech. They are a little strange at first blush, since "spoken speech" seems redundant. But if you encounter both in quick succession, I think it clears up instantly, and one gets used to it right away. I have taken to using spoken and sung speech as descriptors in my articles since being introduced to the term.

Even better, there is precedence for the terms sung and spoken speech in academic journals. Some examples:

Allophonic variation in spoken and sung speech
Music and Speech Perception in Children Using Sung Speech
The effect of sung speech on socio-communicative responsiveness in children with autism spectrum disorders

It seems more popular in speech pathology than in traditional linguistics; perhaps because most phoneticians and phonologists study spoken speech almost exclusively, while use of sung speech for therapeutic reasons is currently being investigated by speech pathologists and other therapists. Nevertheless, it is exciting to know that this term is already in currency and that you can use it to look up other articles.

Do you have any particular feelings about "sung speech" and "spoken speech" as distinctive terms? Have you come across them before? Are you familiar with any other alternatives?

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