Sunday, February 23, 2014

Cuidoient li losengier Linguistics

Cuidoient Phonetic Interpretation
by Katrusha Skomorokh

In my most recent language project, I focused on a song in French called 'Cuidoient li losengier'. The song was written by Guillebert de Berneville in the 13th Century and can be found in The Anthology of Music: Medieval Music, on page 73. The point of this project was to teach myself proper medieval French phonetics.

My fall back for learning any language is to use IPA (the International Phonetic Alphabet). It is something my mind can fully understand and using the knowledge from the descriptions of various phonemes, I am able to create the necessary sounds needed to produce the language as it was hopefully produced in the time period of Guillebert de Berneville.

The difficulty with this project, as with any project that comes to language, is that you will always have regional variants and discrepancies. As stated in Singing Early Music, “Conon de Bethune was embarrassed by the mockery by court people (even by the queen) of his regionalized Artois or Picard speech, and he claims in a poem that it is uncourtly to make fun of someone else's pronunciation.” In other words, our most useful guide to pronunciation through the ages is by looking at written text. The earlier the text, the more probable that all letters that are seen were meant to be pronounced. This created the issue (or perhaps the pleasant knowledge) that as the centuries came and went, it was usually the uneducated that would would continue to reflect the evolution of pronunciation. Just as children have a tendency to spell based on the sound instead of the actual proper spelling, uneducated people in the middle ages gave us hints as to the pronunciations while the educated told us the correct spellings.

We can also see a lot of influences of French in Middle English or Middle High German and vice versa. This can also help us to figure out pronunciations as well. Taking everything into consideration with this song, from what education the man who wrote it may have had to the region where he was located and the time period of the piece all helped me begin to learn what could have been the pronunciation of 'Cuidoient li losengier'.

To begin this research, I decided to work backwards. It is much easier to see how things would be pronounced now and start working through the language in that manner. Being completely clueless as to what French even sounds like (it was not my language of choice during my school years), I found I was in need of some help.

The first verse of the song reads as such:

Coidoient li losengier
Por ce se il ont menti
Que je me doie eslongnier
D'amors et de mon ami
E non Dieu, je l'amerai
Et bone amor servirai
Nuit et jor
Sans fere folor
Et g'iere envoisie
Chantant et jolie

I asked for a phonetic interpretation. Here in lies one of the biggest difficulties in language. Studying it is really an activity where you need to actively be listening. Spellings, dialect differences, and personal preference can all create problems for someone trying to work out pronunciations.

This is the phonetic translation that I was given:

kwee-dwah-ehnt lee loh-sehn-zjer
pohr keh she eel ohnt mehn-tee
keh zjuh meh dwah ehs-lwahn-zjehr
dah-mohrs eht deh mohn ah-mee
ah nohn deeoo zjeh lahm-ehr-ay
eht bohn ah-mor sehr-vee-ray
nooeet eht zjohr
sahns feh-reh foh-lohr
eh zjeehr-eh ehn-vwah-zee
shahn-tahnt eht zjoh-lee

In IPA, in my opinion, that would be written like this:

kwidwaɛnt li losɛnʤiɛɹ
pɔɹ keɪ seɪ il oʊnt mɛnti
keɪ ʤʌ mɛ dwa ɛslwaŋʤiɛɹ
damɔɹs ɛt dɛ mɔn ami
ɛ nɔn diʊ ʤɛ lamɛreɪ
ɛt bɔnɛ amɔɹ sɛɹviɛreɪ
nʊit ɛt ʤɔɹ
sans fɛɹɛ foʊlɔɹ
ɛ ʤiɛɹɛ ɛnvwazi
ʃantant ɛt ʤoʊli

This was my experiment of reading it out loud to myself before properly hearing what it sounded like. The biggest flaws in my first dry run is not having the nasalized vowels [ã, ɛ̃, ɔ̃, and æ̃] or the voiced uvular fricative [ʁ] which is much different from our voiced alveolar approximant [ɹ]. I sat down and listened to the pronunciation of this verse again as well as taking my French dictionary that has the pronunciations written in IPA, I was able to create a new written idea of how this would be pronounced in modern French. Unfortunately, many words were not in the dictionary as this is a Medieval poem and a lot of changes have happened in language since then, so I had to trust my friend's thoughtful pronunciation.

kwidwaɛ̃t li lɔzɛ̃ʒiʁ
pɔʁ sə sə il mɛ̃ti
kə ʒə mə dwa ɛslwãʒiʁ
damuʁz e də mɔ̃ ami
ø nɔ̃ djø ʒə lamɛʁe
e bɔ̃ɛ amuʁ sɛʁviʁe
nɥi e ʒɔʁ
sã feʁe fɔloʁ
ø ʒiʁe ãvwazi
ʃãtã e ʒɔli

Of course, I then began to wonder what, exactly, the medieval pronunciation of this song would be. An alphabet has two rules when it is created. Those rules are:

1. Each symbol should represent a sound.
2. No spoken sound should be represented by more than one symbol.

In those regards, that means that as language evolves, we get the confusion of multiple letters together creating a new sound, or even letters becoming silent depending on the words. The only way to figure out how this song would have been pronounced would be to start at the beginning of language (as close as we are able to study) and slowly move forward to the time and place where this particular song was created.

As questions began to arise, I began working side by side by side with the modern French dictionary, my text book from the International Phonetic Association, and a wonderful book called Singing Early Music that specifically looks at the changes of language using the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Where to start? Well, there are important things to look at. First, I searched for a visual of the actual manuscript, as there is a lot you can learn from looking at the actual piece. I also wanted to do some research on the author of the piece as well as the area he was from and any other little tidbits that would help me to learn more about how things would be pronounced.

I began by scrutinizing the manuscript while looking back and forth with the recent publication in a more modern musical notation. There is so much that can plausibly be lost in translation, so I wanted to make sure that I was able to view the actual source instead of just someone else's interpretation of the source. I am glad I did. There are various things I learned, all were were important, from viewing the manuscript.

-Space was, for some reason, limited, even though the song was laid out where new lines would just start wherever the word would fit. There is an interesting mix of omitting whole words (in the slight chorus-like refrain that is seen in 4 of the 5 verses), omitting letters (also in that chorus-like refrain), and squishing extra letters above the word in question to finish the word. It seems, often, like poor planning.

-The scribing, for that time period, was sloppy without proper kerning or straight lines for the letters.

-The authors signature was in the middle of the page between song lyrics. This could mean that this was a book passed around by various authors, perhaps even a book of the Puy d'Arras (which I will talk about later).

-I find it odd that the repeated section (that only differs, alone, in the second verse) starts, written in the music, as "et siere (it honestly looks like an s, not a g like all the others) envoisie. chantant et jolie." The second verse states "sen sui renvoisie chãtãt." which makes it look familiar to the modern IPA for the song. It then stops there with no symbol to mean 'continue the phrase' or anything. The third says "et giere envoisie." (fixed from the first ending) again ending with no further symbol. The fourth, "et giere." and then the last, "et giere envoisie chantant et jolie." returning us back to the original full phrasing.

-It is impossible, by viewing the manuscript by an amateur like me, to be able to tell rhyme scheme or meter of the piece. But I know that trouveres were very big on rhyme and meter, so the only way I was going to learn more about that was through IPA and looking at the Oxford Anthology printed edition of the song.

It was now time to begin looking at the difference between modern French and Medieval French. The biggest changes, of course, are between the alphabet actually being used to its full extent in Early French (remember the rules for an alphabet?) and certain phonemes either no longer being used or having been simplified by the time we get to modern French.

So, for example, let's look at the early French IPA translation possibility for the song (for, as Conon would say, there are regional varieties and we shouldn't make fun. But according to Singing Early Music, these rules were traditionally used through most of France) next to the Modern. The early French will be on the left, modern on the right.

kɥidɔjãnt li lɔsãnʤjɛr̥            kwidwaɛ̃t li lɔzɛ̃ʒiʁ
pɔr̥ ʦə sə il õnt mãnti            pɔʁ sə sə il ɔ̃ mɛ̃ti
kə ʤə mə dɔjɛslɔjɲjɛr̥             kə ʒə mə dwaslwãʒiʁ
dãmɔr̥s ɛt də mõn ãmi           damuʁz e də mɔ̃ ami
ɛ nõn djɛw ʤə lãmər̥ɛ            ø nɔ̃ djø ʒə lamɛʁe
ɛt bõnãmɔr̥ sɛr̥vir̥ɛ                e bɔ̃amuʁ sɛʁviʁe
nɥit ɛt ʤɔr̥                            nɥi e ʒɔʁ
sãns fɛr̥ɛ fɔlɔr̥                       sã feʁe fɔloʁ
ɛt ʤjɛrãnvɔjsiə                      ø ʒiʁãvwazi
ʧãntãnt ɛt ʤɔliə                  ʃãtãt e ʒɔli

What we are seeing here is that in early French, all letters were pronounced, unlike in modern French. There is also a difference in the [r̥] and the [ʁ]. The first is a voiceless alveolar tap or flap, much like the modern r's in Spanish. The later, a voiced uvular fricative, was not even introduced into French speech until the mid-sixteenth century, and even then it wasn't accepted into cultured speech (poetry, music, etc) until the end of the seventeenth century (Singing Early Music, pg 73). Most of the sounds are seen in both the early and modern French, though. It is in the vowels that the most changes happen through time.

But was this an early French song, teetering in the 13th century when a lot of changes happen in language? It is now time to answer some further questions. Early French is stated to go from 1100-1250, while middle French is stated to go from 1250-1450, so being in the century that sees a lot of change (which, of course, didn't happen in a year, but we can at least lean towards one graduation or the other based on spellings, life of the author, and where/what was going on at that time/place), it was time to broaden my research to more than just the linguistics of a single song.

As is stated in the book Singing Early Music, “...all were increasingly dominated from the end of the twelfth century by Francien, the language used by the royal court...” This helps us in being able to believe that troubadours of France who were seen in courts would, most likely, according to this and the words of Conon, be speaking the same dialect as the courts spoke. So although there is a possibility of dialect differences, we can feel fairly certain that this will not be a huge discrepancy for our troubadour in question.

Gillebert de Berneville is stated to have flourished between 1250-1280. He was a French trouvere that, in his time, was appreciated and popular. Despite this, his songs are only seen in a handful of chansonniers. Gillebert had contact with the a lot of prominent men around the area of Arras, close to his home of Berneville. He worked with many poets in the region and even competed (and had one poem crowned) in the Puy d'Arras.

The Puy d'Arras was a medieval poetical society in Arras that held competitions between trouveres in courtly love lyrics. The president, annually elected, presided over the competitions. Its favored style of poetry was the jeu parti, composed when one troubadour would present a questions and take it up in debate with another, each taking different sides.

The region of Arras was a huge culture center in France, especially for trouveres. Between the culture, the society of Puy d'Arras, and the important figures seen in Gillebert's life, he was certainly educated well enough that he would most likely be in the trending of where language was at that time, leaving us with the decision to use middle French. In fact, as in 1180 Arras became an important location for banking and trade, wool being of great importance since the 4th century, the entire area would be following language trends, for certain.

But the manuscript was not helping me learn a date. Gillebert flourished for 30 years, but that doesn't even mean that this was written during his years of flourishing The Oxford Anthology, though, has a bibliography under the musical bars. It says:

R 1287; Paris; Biblioteque de l'Arsenal, MS 5198, p. 145.

Whether this means the song was written in 1287 or the book was finished in 1287, I do not know. But we can work on the middle French and then view the differences between the two and use that to determine which we should be using. Once again, we will look at early French on the left and middle French on the right.

kɥidɔjãnt li lɔsãnʤjɛr̥             kɥidwɛãn li lɔzãnʒjɛr̥
pɔr̥ ʦə sə il õnt mãnti             pɔ sə sə i õn mãnti
kə ʤə mə dɔjɛslɔjɲjɛr̥              kə ʒə mə dwɛlwɛɲjɛr̥
dãmɔr̥s ɛt də mõn ãmi           dãmɔr̥ ɛ də mõ ãmi
ɛ nõn djɛw ʤə lãmər̥ɛ             ɛ nõ djø ʒə lãmər̥ɛ
ɛt bõnãmɔr̥ sɛr̥vir̥ɛ                  ɛ bõnãmɔr̥ sɛr̥vir̥ɛ
nɥit ɛt ʤɔr̥                             nɥi ɛ ʒɔr̥
sãns fɛr̥ɛ fɔlɔr̥                         sãn fɛr̥ɛ fɔlɔr̥
ɛt ʤjɛrãnvɔjsiə                        ɛ ʒjɛrãnvwɛsiə
ʧãntãnt ɛt ʤɔliə                    ʃãntãn ɛ ʤɔliə

So, how do we decide which is more likely? I go back to the original manuscript. That one small discrepancy that I spoke of where letters/words were omitted. The second verse states "sen sui renvoisie chãtãt”. It is obviously a quick handed manner of making sure people can still read the word. It could be that the symbols that look like ~'s above the a's could be tiny n's. But the one thing they are not able to get rid of are the t's. Perhaps because, in that time period, not all the t's would be pronounced which means, if you didn't write them, people would think it was a different word. Look at the English word 'sign'. If someone left out the 'g' because you can't hear it in there (as an uneducated person may), we have the word 'sin'. Completely different words with completely different meanings. This makes me lean towards the middle English for phonetic transcription.

Also, it is said in Singing Early Music that in early French, any time two vowels were next to each other, they were each pronounced separately. Many were starting to blend in middle French. Because of this, the only way for the song to have a measured meter is if it were in middle French.

I also took the opportunity to view other trouvere songs of the time period, both the examples in the book as well as a book of women troubadours of France. They also had similar spellings for words that earlier (and, of course, later period) did not concur with. This confirmed two things for me. One, that Gillebert was educated. And two, that Arras was strongly influenced, because of its culture and activity, by the changing languages making them well seated in middle French at that time.

Most of the changes were in silencing of letters or in the vowels. There wasn't much change in the actual consonants. There were certainly rules seen for middle French as far as how to pronounce words. Here is a quick notation on them, taken from the easily more explained versions in Singing Early Music:

-spellings do not reflect pronunciation
-simplified affricatives: [s], [ʃ], [ʒ]
-silent [s] seen before consonants and in final position
-loss of many final consonants
-c before an a, o, or u is pronounced [k]; before an e or i is pronounced [s]
-ch is pronounced [ʃ]
-g before an a, o, or u is pronounced [ɡ]; before an e or i is pronounced [ʒ]
-j is pronounced [ʒ]
-l at the beginning of a word or syllable is pronounced [l]; if followed by a consonant, even if in the next word, is pronounced [w]; if il or ill, pronounced [ʎ]
-n and m both are still pronounced after their nasalized vowels
-[ɲ] is pronounced much like the Spanish ñ and usually spelled gn or ign
-q or qu is pronounced [k]
-r is pronounced [r̥] much like in modern Spanish or Italian
-rr is pronounced as [r̥] with a single tap only in speech, having not been accepted in song as such until mid 17th C.
-all final consonants disappeared in popular language, but in literary (song and poetry), the situation was complex. Inside a line of verse, s was only pronounced if the following word began with a vowel and it was voiced: [z]. At a pause or end of the line a final s was fully pronounced [s]. Inside a word s was always silent even though it remained in spellings until 18th C. Before disappearing, s was pronounced in an aspirated form [x] before transforming into a lengthening of vowel form. (To me, I am hearing... s is forever and always silent when followed by a consonant unless it ended a word or began a word. It certainly confuses me quite a bit, that's for certain.)
-x was used commonly for -us which was usually pronounced as [ws]
-z is pronounced [s]

There are also many rules for the vowels because, as I mentioned, they were starting to muddle and flow together at that point. I recommend picking up the book to learn more in that aspect as it is much too much to describe here.

It wasn't until after I had finished all the IPA for the song that I learned two incredibly important things that will help in learning the music and singing the piece.

-The rhyme scheme is a/b/a/b/c/c/d/d/e/e

-The meter scheme is 7/7/7/7/7/7/3/5/6/6

With that new knowledge, I was able to use IPA to finish the rest of the song.

(Please click on pictures to make them larger.)

Here I have rewritten the manuscript in IPA and it wasn't until I placed the musical notes on the staff did the music finally make sense to me. It is because in IPA I am able to see and know where the syllable breaks are that, looking at the actual language, I have no idea. For example, I always know the fourth syllable gets a three trilled note on one of the lines while all the other syllables in that line only get a single note. It does not mean that they are all whole notes or half notes. Just that each syllable is a mono - tone instead of a poly - tone. Being able to visualize all the breaks in the words is very helpful as I have, many times, tried to sing songs before where you can never figure out where syllables are to be placed according to the notes or even how many syllables a word has to be able to place them to the notes.

Here is the consonant chart along with the diagram of sound creation within the head. This chart shows all the consonant sounds that will be seen and used in Middle French. Of course, we can't say for certain that this is true without a doubt as we do now know that people made fun of accents of those in the same country. You will notice that all the consonants stay within the mouth, especially closer to the front. The closer we get towards modern French, the more we see a lot of the sounds moving uvular, more towards the back of the throat.

Here on the vowel chart, we can see the triangle formed by the various vowels in the mouth. The diagram at the top shows us the frontal closed sound of [i] which is pronounced like the sound in 'bee'. In the upper back of the mouth, still closed, we have the sound [u] like in the word 'too'. Our palate then rises as out tongue drops, mouth opening, and we find ourself with the more open [a] sound pronounced like 'baa'. All the vowels we will find, with the exception of those that have the [~] mark which makes them nasalized, all our vowels are going to be voiced within this small triangle formed in the mouth. Where you see the [e] next to the [y] sound, the only difference is that when we say [e], our lips are usually spread wide. If we round our lips into a more circular shape, we produce the sound [y]. You may not hear it right away, but that is because we are not always able to hear or pronounce phonemes that we do not use growing up: they leave our vocabulary, so to speak. Typically when two symbols are beside each other, though, you can experiment with the sound that on the left is more open and wide, and on the right is more rounded and tight.

When we look at modern French, we find more of our vowels becoming nasalized and pushing more towards the back of the throat, forcing the triangle seen here to change shape and location in the mouth.

With all this knowledge one can more confidently be able to pronounce words as they may have been pronounced in the past, being able to create the music with more of a period feel than we often can with our more modern learning.

I know that my research here really forces people to have a deeper knowledge of IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) than many possibly may already have, so I would like to refer people to my starter course on IPA that I created, trying to keep the information in layman's terms in hopes that reading that will help teach someone enough that they can begin to understand more of what I am doing with my language research. Please view that handout here.


McGee, Timothy J., A. G. Rigg and David N. Klausner, eds. Singing Early Music: The Pronunciation of European Languages in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1996.

Berneville, Guillebert de. “Cuidoient li losengier.” The Oxford Anthology of Music: Medieval Music. Ed. W Thomas Marrocco and Nicholas Sandon. Oxford: University Press. 1977. 73.

Handbook of International Phonetic Association: A Guide to the Use of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Cambridge: University Press. 1999. 78-81.

Bogin, Meg. The Women Troubadours. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 1976.

Barron's French – English Dictionary. United States: Barron's Educational Series, Inc. 2006.

Theodore Karp. "Gillebert de Berneville" Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed 8 January 2013.

Puy d'Arras accessed 14 February, 2014.