…And if English isn’t your first language, Anglophonic proficiency is no easy accomplishment. Like the more well known word, Francophone, an Anglophone is someone who speaks, in this case, English. “Anglo” comes from Latin and means ‘the English’; “phone” comes from Greek and means ‘sound’ or even ‘voice’. (Telephone, by the way, literally means ‘far away sound’.)
The challenge of pronouncing English sounds is vast and widely known. I’m the first to admit that an alphabet where no one letter is pronounced in only one way can drive a person certifiably crazy. Nonetheless, if you want to be absolutely awestruck by what people have managed to accomplish with sound, check out the masters of Tuvian and Mongolian throat singing. These experts, living in Southern Siberia and Mongolia, have cracked the code on how to produce more than one pitch at the same time. This is also called diaphonic voicing, or singing in overtones, and it’s a feat of incredulous proportion. As Bruce Miller describes for National Geographic Word Music in his article, Overtone Singing:
“While everyone has natural harmonics in his or her voice, the people of this remote region were able to hone in on one of these harmonics, or overtones, create a drone with one overtone and then, vocally, grab a higher pitch, which shapes a melody on top, allowing them to sing duets with themselves.”
While centuries old, this voicing technique is still alive and well. Thanks to the dedication of sociolinguists and anthropologists who’ve brought it global, throat singing still wows listeners around the world.
Perhaps it’s because we all have natural harmonics that music is the universal language of the soul. And, in like manner, everyone has an innate connection to the natural world.
Our very survival depends on it. Hmmmmmmm.
Voicing = a universal human ability = our universal connection to our environment.
I’d be hard pressed to find a clearer example than Tuvian and Mongolian throat singing of how singing reflects our link to the natural world. Tuvians divide overtone singing styles into three major types, all of which use aspects of nature to describe the sounds. Sygyt is an imitation of singing birds or gentle breezes. Xoomei implies stronger winds, and kargyraa warns of impending storms. Would you like to hear an example of throat singing? If you’re not used to it, it may seem a little SciFi’esque. I hope, as we consider the expertise of the master singers and the genre’s inherent and universal cultural/linguistic link, a sense of wonder and richness will transcend a possible, “Oh my goodness this is weird” reaction. To me, diaphonics puts my pronunciation competency to shame. Check out the music’s best known practitioner, Huun-Huur-Tu’s Kaigal-ool Khovalg, and prepare to be impressed!