Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bankeþ Airplane

In honour of the beginning of summer, this post arrives on your blogstep at the same moment as the sun is overhead the Tropic of Cancer, and I have a summer song for you.

This is possibly the oldest known English song. It dates from around 1240, so after the Norman invasion, before the great vowel shift, before foreign typesetters tossed out the thorn, and before post-inflected English had established its current SOV word order. All the endings you see are the archaic third person singular, spelled -eth in Shakespeare, and omitted entirely in modern speech and writing.

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med

And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel þu singes cuccu;

Ne swik þu nauer nu.

Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

You can figure most of it out if you know your animal-specific English verbs. The only word that doesn't exist at all in modern English is swik which means "stop". To figure it the rest out, pronounce u as ow (like what you say when you're hurt) except in the word cuccu make it a long oo and immediately before e pronounce it as v. You can find a modern translation here. There's music, too and here's a video of it being performed.

I find it interesting that some of the specific verbs related to animals are becoming obscure in English. Maybe it's just because I don't work with animals, but I would probably say that a ewe "baas" and a cow "moos," before I thought of bleats and lows. I think I only know the latter because of the Christmas carol in which "cattle are lowing."

I'm trying to think of any verbs relating to airplanes and engines that are not shared with animals. Our engines sputter, splutter, cough, roar, hum and purr. An airplane banks which I think is related to the meaning of bank "earthen incline, edge of a river," which is at least as old as this song. A banked road or racecourse would allow a chariot or bicycle to corner more easily, and the leaning sense must have transferred from the earthen bank to the vehicle. Pitch, roll and yaw are similarly not new with airplanes. Airplanes land and take off, but so do birds. A little internet research confirms the feeling I am getting here: it is easier for new nouns to enter a language than new verbs. So airplanes flooded us with new words naming the parts of the new invention, but we didn't make up many brand new words for what the heavier-than-air machines did. Honestly, if you can think of any verbs that were newly coined with the airplane, I bet they are verbed nouns.

Come back at midnight zulu for tomorrow's post, the contest I promised you, in which you can win a pair of new sunglasses.

Updated with working YouTube link.


DataPilot said...

Aviatrix, when I try to play the movie, it says, "This video has been removed by the user."

Not to worry. I Googled the song, and stumbled across a modern English translation before I could find another video of it being performed. I won't spoil the fun by giving the translation here. I am, however, pleased to say that I'd already figured out about 2/3 of it just by using the instructions in this blog, plus a little of my own foreign language background. (I'd have never guessed the meaning of Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ" without help, though.) Fun stuff.

Turns out that I'm better at translating Middle English than I am at naming new verbs to describe heavier-than-air machines. I can't think of even one.

Sarah said...

Thank you, Aviatrix.. . that was really lovely. Except for the part about the stag.

Here is a working youtube link.

I couldn't think of any new airplane verbs either. The idea is to describe the actions of airplanes in terms of things already known, so you get analogies to bird flight and so on. I don't know... "stalling" ?

amulbunny's random thoughts said...

I sang that in college chorale back in the 70's. We were always challenged to sing things that were so different from the music being played around us. Thanks for sharing.

Happy Solstice!

david said...

As a parent volunteer, I taught this song to my older daughter's class in grade 5, when they were doing a unit on the Middle Ages. After a little help they could understand it, and they had no problem singing it in front of the school. They loved the fact that they could sing about farts without the principal realizing it.

Here's a refrain from an even older English poem for you to Google and try to translate: "þæs overeode, þisses swa mæg"

The mystery poem it's taken from might console you the next time you hit career bumps of your own.

Cedarglen said...

I don't know where yo found that old song, but I love it! There is a pace for all we do and song or chant has a history.
For you, the chant is flying and you are really doing it. The IFR check counts and the building hours count. GFI! You are flying!