The Ranums' Panat Times
To imitate French tonguings for wind instruments, is it realistic to think that "veddy" (or, rather, "teddy") is a near-equivalent for the syllables tu and ru?
(You may also wish to consult a related Musing that includes illustrations of what the mouth does in making these tonguing syllables )
Ever since my reply to George Goebel's letter in the June 1993 issue of American Recorder, pp. 34-39 (Goebel questioned my presentation of the French seventeenth-century R as a lingual consonant where the tongue flips up rapidly and curls toward the palate without touching the upper teeth, then returns to its starting place behind the lower front teeth), I have been musing about how better to explain why I am convinced that players are being mislead by the notion that a 17th- and 18th-century R can be imitated by saying "veddy," for "very," as in British English. "Veddy" involves using what is known as the "tapped" R, because it is articulated by a light tap of the tongue behind the upper teeth. (Although comparisons between one language and another are dangerous, one might argue that an American R, where the tongue rolls backward slightly without touching the upper teeth resembles the tongue movement required for the 17th-century French R more closely than does the British "d" of "veddy."
In her recent study, Linguistic Change in France (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997), pp. 288-90, the linguist Rebecca Posner observes that "we assume that in older French the apical R was normal." She describes this R as "trilled or flapped." (Note: "flapped "should not be taken as an equivalent of "tapped." Instead, it denotes a single rather than a repeated backward flip of the tip of the tongue.) And she observes that this R can still be heard in some rural areas of France and, of course, in Spain; but that it only becomes "dental" (that is, a "tapped" d-like R) in Portugal and in along the western Franco-Spanish boarder. Then (as I do in American Recorder) she cites the pronunciation lesson in Molière's Bourgeois gentilhomme, as suggesting a "fully trilled apical R."
1) I'd like to make another stab at explaining my position on the syllables tu and ru, because it is a very, very important issue. That is to say, the mere fact that a tonguing group that we call "tu-ru" is equated in our minds with "ver-y" is bound to lead astray any player who is not unusually familiar with the French language.
Why? First of all, because the way the R functions in what is sometimes described as a two-syllable "word" "tu-ru" has nothing in common with the role played by the R in "very/veddy."
This is an important issue. There is no French two-syllable word that uses the same letters as "very"; and despite what many players think, "tu-ru" is not a "word." So, rather than talk about a "word" composed of the syllables tu and ru, I'll invent a word that uses the same consonants as "very/veddy": véri, where all four letters sound quite a bit like the letters in "very." Now, in véri the syllables break very differently from the syllables in the English word vé-ri, versus ver-y. That is to say, instead of closing the first syllable, as the R does in English, the R of véri launches the second syllable.
To summarize this first general point: It is extremely deceptive to draw a parallel between a two-syllable French word and the English word "very," because the R functions in a totally different way, launching the syllable in the French and closing it in the English one.
2) The accentuation of the French language is totally different from that of English.
A still more important point must be made about why even thinking or talking about "very/veddy" is counterproductive. Drawing an equation between French tonguing syllables and "very/veddy" creates a distorting mind-set that prevents players from judging the importance of the points I am discussing here (and that I presented at length in my articles for American Recorder and STIMU. By drawing a parallel between "very" and the syllables tu and ru, this mind-set causes musicians talk about something called "TU-ru" (first syllable loud and strong, second syllable weak) as if this "tu-ru" were a 2-syllable word, just as "VER-y" (first syllable loud and strong, second syllable week) is a 2-syllable word. But this "tu-ru" does not exist, and I tried hard to demonstrate that in those two articles.
Most English words are accentuated by force; and in short words this stress accent tends to fall at the beginning of the word: VER-y. In an English song, the composer would therefore place "ver-" on a strong beat, and "-y" on a weak one: | VER- y (where the vertical bar indicates the start of the musical measure and the bold letters represent the strong beat.)
The situation is reversed on the other side of the Channel, for the French accentuate the final syllable of a word. and they do it by length, not by strength. This means that the strong note of the musical measure must support the end of a word, not the beginning: vé-r|iii (where the R is shown in its typically French pre-beat position and the vertical bar and the bold iii's represent the reposeful length accent that, in French music both vocal and instrumental must fall on the strong beat of the musical measure).
Note also that the French word flows across the barline, rather than starting at the barline, as "very" does. This does not mean that the R is a "link" (as English-speaking specialists in Baroque music often assert), although I suppose one can imagine it functioning that way in "very." Instead, the R of véri serves as what could be called the "launcher" of a new syllable. And it is perceived as playing this role whenever it appears at the beginning of a syllable, irrespective of whether the ru appears in a run of notes inégales or in another tonguing pattern, such as tu-ru-tu, or tu-ru-tu-tu (see my paper in the STIMU volume). In short, the notion that R somehow "links" things is simply not French. At any rate, I have never come across such an assertion in any articles on linguistics or poetics. If I have missed something on the subject, I hope readers will send me the citation(s) so I can re-think my position on about this linking function of the R.
In other words, it is not altogether clear that the strong beats of a musical measure meant the same thing to a 17th- or 18th-century Frenchman that it meant to an Englishman (or an Italian or a German). In fact, my book-length manuscript, The Harmonic Orator, demonstrates that the French seem to have understood many aspects of musical notation in a very national way, and that their musical scores must therefore be read according to corpus of presuppositions that are quite different from those applicable to the other nations of Baroque Europe.
To summarize my argument thus far: "very/veddy" is so different in every respect from véri (or other two-syllable "French" words one might invent, such as té-di, tu-ri, ta-di, ta-ri, and so forth) that windplayers should stop talking about "VEDdy." They also should stop talking about "TU-ru." Neither of these "words" will help them understand French tonguing syllables. Indeed, equating "veddy" and "tu-ru" is bound to make the player's mind invert the logic of the French language, so that he tongues with a heavy English (or Germanic) accent.
3) This brings us to a third important difference between English and French that must be taken into account when weighing the merits of "veddy" as a guide for wind articulations in French music.
If I keep coming back into the fray, trying to debunk these assertions, it is because I have compelling evidence that they are constructed on shifting sands. My evidence was gleaned from linguistics articles, from Henri Morier's magisterial Dictionnaire de poétique et de rhétorique, and from marvelous statements about word-music relationships in 17th- and 18th-century books that I have assembled in my manuscript, The Harmonic Orator. But although I am intellectually obliged to debunk, I'm not out to convert people who don't want to be converted. This is why I'm not interested in rehashing the same old points. I am, on the other hand, eager to help anyone willing to approach the matter with a positive attitude and an open mind even if, in the end, they reject what I say.
This time around I am going to avoid the issues that came up in my exchange with Mr. Goebel. I've chosen this tactic because the essential information appears in my reply to Mr. Goebel, but above all because I have come to the conclusion that asking these particular questions and citing the same assertions over and over again amounts to asking the wrong questions. Even worse, asking these wrong questions causes everyone to be blinded by the smoke and steam stirred up by what is perceived, I suspect, as my wrong-headed and unsubstantiated attack upon Truth.
So, instead of restating in different words my reply to Mr. Goebel, I want to take as a point of departure page 11 of my article on Loulié, American Recorder, December 1992. There I describe how to form the French vowel U: the tongue is firmly behind the lower front teeth, the mouth is pursed as if to blow out a candle and if you try to say "eee" (as in the exclamation "Eeek!"), a French "pointed" U comes out. This is the U in the French tonguing syllables tu and ru. The tongue position it requires is not open to doubt, so there is no point in debating it. We have to live with this fact and either learn to pronounce a French U, or decline to do so. (I will return to the implications behind the Baroque musicians' choice of this vowel later.)
The important point is this: To say a French tu, the tongue must be down behind the lower front teeth. Contrast this position with the one required for the vowels that English-speaking players are told to use in lieu of this pointed U. The short I ("ih") of "ti-di" or "ti-ri" keeps the tongue in the region behind the upper front teeth. So does a short E, as in "teh-deh"; so does an O ("oh") as in "toe- doe"; and so does the U or OU ("oo") of "too-doo." This is a crucial difference, because it affects the air flow, the distance the tongue must move, and the parts of the mouth that the tongue will touch as it articulates the consonants in the tonguing syllables.
Now to the R and the T.
First, the T, in the syllable tu. To get itself down behind the lower front teeth, and to sound that French-style U, the tongue makes a rapid downward movement from the back of the upper teeth, where it articulates the T, moves to the back of the lower teeth for the U. In a run of consecutive tu's this creates a repeated up-and-down movement. Dare I liken it to the quick gesture of a snake's tongue, except that the movement is vertical rather than horizontal? That is to say, to articulate a rapid run of tu's, a French speaker's tongue makes a quick, clean motion that focuses on the bottom teeth and uses none of the "tongue curls" that accompany the articulation of the English sounds "tee" or "dee."
This tongue curl is another very important difference between French and English, and thinking "veddy" only aggravates the situation. When English speakers say "tee-tee" or "tee-dee," and so forth, their tongue curls back after the "ee," then returns to the front of the mouth to articulate the next consonant. In a sense, they "curl" the vowel with their tongue, creating a dipthong. This curling of the vowel does not occur in the speech of a native-French speaker or in that of a foreigner whose accent is so good that the French don't realize at first that he or she is not a native. (The truth always comes out in the end, however, for the French have a very fine ear and are truly pained when their language is abused.) No indeed. Even when it forms an "oo" or an "oh," the French-speaker's tongue tends to stay low in the mouth, for the lower teeth are its preferred anchor. (Thus it is quite easy to recite an entire French classical poem with your tongue virtually tied to the ridge behind your lower front teeth: you lisp a bit when articulating some of the consonants especially the R's but the result is quite intelligible. Just try to do that in English! The middle of your tongue will keep lurching upward, and every syllable will be muddied.) This explains why English speakers often can't shake off their strong and all too recognizable English accent, even when they pronounce the French vowels and consonants reasonably well. They are unable to get rid of this backward-curling motion of the tongue that creates a dipthong-like glide where none exists in French.
The difference between a run of tu's pronounced à la française and a run of "dih"s or "deh"s, or "doe"s ("doh") or "doo"s of course affects the sound of the note that comes out of a wind instrument. The wind flows very differently, depending to whether the tongue spends most of its time down behind the lower front teeth, as it does in French, or whether it hovers behind the upper front teeth, as it does in the tonguings ("did'll," "di," "ti," and so forth) that are described by Quantz but that have no equivalent sounds in Hotteterre's mother tongue.
The French U creates a wind flow that is as clean and as focused as the wind flow of someone who is blowing out a candle. By contrast, the "ih," "eh," "oh" or "oo" that supposedly are adequate replacements for the "pointed" French U but that require such a different tongue position break up that focused flow, muddy it, curl it. That is in large part why French speakers breathe on the average every 12 syllables, while English speakers grab for air every 8 syllables. Just try this: Hold a lighted candle about 9 inches from your face so that you will be blowing straight out at the flame. Articulate a succession of French tu's, blowing just about as hard as you would when playing the recorder or the flute. Next, do the same thing as you tongue a succession of "teh''s or "too"s, English-style. If you have kept your tongue behind your lower teeth during the time of each French U, the candle will have flickered gently and rhythmically as you sent that succession of tu's its way, and with each flicker the flame will move away from you rather smoothly and rhythmically. But with the "teh"s or the "too"s, the flame will have vacillated back and forth, sometimes quite violently.
Now, to the R the French one, not the ersatz d-like R of "veddy." If you tongue a tu, and you keep your mouth in that pointed position, there is only one way you can articulate an R! You are forced to flip your tongue up in a curve, without touching the back of the upper front teeth. (So it's hard to see how this R could be called either a "dental" or a "tapped" R.) Farther back in your mouth, the sides of your tongue will press against the teeth to reduce the wind flow. Next, the tip flips back down to the area behind the lower teeth to shape the U. The so-called "uvular" R pronounced in the back of the throat is not a viable alternative: not only was it considered rustic and uncouth in Hotteterre and Loulié's day, it doesn't constitute an articulation. The tip of the tongue stays glued behind the lower teeth as the back of the tongue heaves upward to block the flow of air. No other R is described in French grammar, rhetoric and singing books of the period certainly not a tapped R that we can justifiably equate with a D.
4) Next, a practical matter: Why did the French settle upon tu and ru in the first place?
As far as I can see, they used these syllables, rather than ti or di or ri, because U was one of the few vowels in their language that would permit them to keep their lips sufficiently shut to play a wind instrument. They don't have the English and German short I, pronounced "ih," which leaves the lips barely open and only slightly pursed. The French I is long, and the mouth pulls out at the corners in a near grimace, as in our scream, "Eek!" They do have an E whose sound resembles our "eh," but here too they pull the corners of the mouth out so far into a near grin that no tonguing could be based upon this vowel. (Note that, the French I, U and E are all sounded with the tongue behind the lower front teeth, although it presses a bit less firmly for the E than for the I and the U.) An A is out of the question in both English and French, because the mouth gapes. In short, the French had only three feasible vowels: U, O (pronounced "oh" as in "toe") and OU (pronounced as in "you"). Two of them, O and OU are sounded behind the upper teeth although, as I pointed out earlier, the tongue generally settles down behind the lower teeth as the vowel decays, rather than curling upward as in English). The third vowel, U, is sounded behind the lower teeth.
Which brings us to yet another crucial point. Baroque French windplayers seem to have universally rejected O and OU, preferring the "pointed" vowel U instead. They could have chosen to tongue their syllables behind the upper teeth, but they didn't. They chose the vowel that forced them to keep the tongue behind their lower teeth. That they made this choice is very important indeed. Even more important: by making this choice, they forced the tongue to make a rather long trip back and forth, as it articulates tu-ru-tu, or tu-ru-tu-tu, or tu-tu-ru-tu-ru a trip that is much longer than the one required to tongue tou-rou-tou, or toe-roe-toe, and so forth. In short, they rejected a tonguing that keeps the tongue in the upper half of the mouth, moving no great distance as it articulates a T behind the upper teeth, lets the tongue curve back slightly for the vowel, and then articulates an R via a relatively brief backward flip that virtually merges with the next vowel which also involves a backward curl of the tongue. It's a pretty efficient tonguing pattern that relies on a back-and-forth motion behind the upper front teeth. But, I repeat, the French rejected this option.
It is also very interesting to note that when French players declined to launch syllables with a D instead of an R, they rejected what at first glance seems an still more efficient tonguing. T's and D's would have kept the tongue even closer to the upper teeth at all times and would have eliminated that backward flip for the R that we find so troublesome and that we try to explain away by claiming that it did not, indeed could not exist. I have a hunch why they rejected tu-du-tu-du. I speak a rapid, flowing French, but I find it an awfully clumsy tongue-twister to articulate tu-du-tu-du which forces my tongue to make awkward up-down movements, from the back of the upper teeth to the back of the lower teeth, then back up to the fleshy ridge behind the upper teeth for the D (that is, just a tiny bit farther back than for the T) and down again to the lower teeth. But that's not what strikes me as fundamentally undesirable in this particular tonguing. Its shortcoming is that there is no appreciable difference between the tu's and the du's. Tu-tu-tu-tu is, by contrast wonderfully comfortable and "equal"-feeling, because it involves that quick, snakelike motion; and tu-ru-tu-ru, or tu-ru-tu-tu, or tu-ru-tu, all add interesting variety because they rely up an interplay between the fastest articulation in the language and one of the slowest ones.
5) Is it not time for musicians who are not native French speakers to come grips with this choice that French windplayers made some four hundred years ago?
We may not like their choice. We may think the result sounds funny. And it surely feels funny at least at first. But, since the French made that choice, we too must choose. Will we respect their choice and learn to use our mouths and tongues as they did? Or will we reject their aesthetics and continue to play with a strong foreign accent?
As I look back, I guess I had no trouble choosing, because every day I mix French and English in my reading, my writing, my conversation. So, when I play French music, I naturally think in French and automatically tongue tu and ru with my lips and tongue in a French position. And though my German vocabulary and grammar are awfully shaky, I have the basic sounds of the language right. And so, when I play German music, I try to think like a German; and I try to articulate Quantz's syllables as a German would.
For those of you who want to try to articulate French syllables in a French way, rather than protest about how unfeasible, pointless and erroneous such an undertaking is sure to be, I'll do everything I can to help. Please write me if you have questions, or if something I wrote isn't clear. (These things are devilishly hard to express via computer keyboards rather than in face-to-face demonstrations of mouth and tongue positions.) You can ask me right now by sending Patricia an e-mail