Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Chinese Sprechstimme

You don't need to speak Cantonese dialect to apprecxiate this clip. In fact anyone with an "ear" for speech rhythms might get a kick out of this. This clip is specially interesting because the SECOND woman is expressing extreme emotions in a deliberately exaggerated style. She doesn't really want her husband to understand, so out it comes in a chaotic rush. "How  do you expect me to follow that?" he says. But she's up to something and doesn't want him interfering so she twists him round with this crazy barrage, full of alliteration and idiomatic slang, like Cockney rhyme. (It also takes a cue from Cantonese opera recitatives which are also rhythmic like this). As a pure exercise in sound it's wonderful and you can probably pick up a lot of what it means anyway.

Mr Sun comes home and a woman congratulates him on his new baby son who's "fat and white" (a compliment). "What kid?" says husband, then goes indoors. Look at the furniture inside the house - typical of the period, now valued as antiques. In comes Mrs Sun, pulling down her sleeves as she's just delivered the home birth (this is 1948). "My baby, you gotta hope"' she says, then launches into her rap. A woman with a difficult situation has come into the Sung clan home to give birth so the baby can be passed off as theirs in secret (cue for a mistaken identity drama baroque masters would have loved). No, says husband. In that case says feisty wife, "I'm  moving out of your room now" So much for meek and subordinate Chinese women! The husband is Ma Sze Tsang 馬師曾 probably the greatest Cantonese actor/opera star of all. The wife is Hung Sin Nui 紅線女 his real life partner and equal. She's still around (born 1924) actively promoting their legacy.

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