[b-hebrew] TRe: poetic accents and poetic metre

Yonah Mishael yonahmishael at gmail.com
Wed Sep 13 19:03:19 EDT 2006

Dr. Altman:

> You see, if you had read the article (or even paid attention to what I
> wrote), you would know that Gregorian Chant is specifically mentioned as
> the model used by some authorities to make claims about Hebrew Chant.

Have you ever chanted the text of the Hebrew Bible? I don't know about
other people, but when I sing the Torah, it doesn't sound *anything*
like a Gregorian chant.

> Now: Chant:
> Latin cantum > Anglo-Norman French > chaunt > ModE. chant
> Standard usage: "a measured, monotonous song; usually implying something
> less tuneful than an air or song.."

[Middle English] chanten < [Old French] chanter, canter < [Latin]
cantare < [Indo-European base] *kan- (to sing)

The word "chant" as a verb comes from the word "to sing," and can be
traced all the way to its IE root (beyond Latin), and you have given
only one meaning of the word in English usage. The fact that I and
many others use "chant" for the Hebrew Bible (including the Psalms)
indicates that this "standard usage" definition is not complete.

> The 14th-century name for a rooster, "chauntacleer" or "chaunteclere." is
> onomatopoeic, after the cock's crow. -- which certainly is  monotonous and
> less tuneful than an air or song. So, for that matter is a charm chant.Both
> cock's crow and charm chant reveal the standard perception of what is meant
> by 'chant.'

Perhaps what you think of when you say "chant," but definitely not what I think.

> Now melody is one heck of a mnemonic, That the prose of the MT is set to
> 'chant' is one thing; to do it to songs is another.There are good reasons
> why Psalms were known as '"hearpan sang" -- harp song, -- and that, Yonah,
> is 11th-century English.

Indeed, we use the tones of the trope to memorize and use biblical
passages, and we also can use them to memorize the Psalms. I do not
understand the injustice that you see in this. The trope was
superimposed over the Psalms and other poetic portions of the Tanakh
for a reason, and that was to guide reading.

> Further, there were more than 300 attempts to set
> English translations of the Psalms to melodies between the sixteenth
> century and the first quarter of the twentieth century. And those melodies
> emulated folk song! That also says something about the perceived
> distinction between song and chant.

So? We sing the Psalms in Hebrew with various melodies, also. What
point does this make?

> There are no synonyms in the English language.

No synonyms? There is definite semantic overlap between various words
in the English language. What is the difference in a medical situation
between "operation" and "surgery"? What is the difference between the
"effect" of an action and its "result"? How about between
"multiplying" a couple of numbers and "timesing" them?

Small nuance differences between synonyms (which certainly *do* exist
in English) can often be attributed to the register of speech being
used in a given linguistic sample, an attempt to diversify a message
enough to maintain the interest of the audience, and the lexical
treasury of (number of words available to) a speaker.

In the case of "chant" and "sing," we have come to differentiate them
in modern usage because of the former's religious connotation (as is
the case with many other "religious words" that do not normally have a
place in regular life: dispensation, atonement, grace, etc.). Although
some people have come to draw a complete separating line between the
two (and although "chant" has been used for things other than "singing
melodically"), this does not rule out the use of "chant" for melodic
singing, and this is how many people use it even today when they are
referring to religious poetry or religious texts that are set to song
in general.

> If 'chant' meant solely
> 'song', one of the words
> would have disappeared centuries ago. It doesn't, though. It means a
> specific type of song..

This is not the case because they are not completely synonymous. You
should have stated that there are no complete synonyms in the English
language. However, this would not apply to my point, since I did not
say that they are COMPLETE synonyms. CHANT generally has a different
purpose than SING, and that is (as stated above) that "chant" is used
more for religious melodies and songs that are put to ancient
religious texts.

> "People longing to turn the word ''religion' into a byword' ??? Hoo, boy!
> This one won the "prys."..

Give me a good reason, then, for "chant" NOT to be used when
discussing the text of the Bible? My reasons for using "chant" are

(1) The text of the Bible is set to a specific group of tones that
have been received as a tradition from previous generations (even when
these tones vary among groups);

(2) This group of tones is limited in number and could be applied to
any text with the same result;

(3) The purpose of this addition of musical notation was to aid in
memorization of the text and in its recitation; and,

(4) Other people that I have studied under have called it "chanting"
as I was learning to sing the text myself.

So, again, why does "chant" offend you when it is a perfectly suitable
term for what is going on with the text of the Bible and its
recitation in modern times?


Yonah Mishael ben Avraham
Joplin, MO
yonahmishael at gmail.com

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