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Fossils from a Rural Past

Fossils from a Rural Past: A Study of Extant Cantonese Children's Songs

Helen Kwok
Mimi Chan
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 40
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  • Book Info
    Fossils from a Rural Past
    Book Description:

    A selection of popular extant Cantonese children's songs, studying both their linguistic and non-linguistic aspects. The Chinese texts of the songs are printed together with their English translations.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-136-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The songs discussed in this monograph were once popular in many towns and villages in Guangdong Province. We knew a few of them ourselves, having learned them from our mother, maternal grandmother and other older relatives. Like other children who belonged to relatively affluent upper middle-class families growing up first in Guangzhou and Hong Kong in the 1940s and 50s we had one or more amahs or female domestic servants at home, and these women, especially baby amahs, domestics entrusted with the care of infants and children, would teach the children these songs. Our own children, now young adults, learned...

  5. The Linguistic Context
    (pp. 11-26)

    The second thing we did with our collected songs was to analyse their structure and style. They are classified into four categories in terms of their meaning and function, although there is a great deal of overlap.

    The first group are rhythmic chants which often accompany movements and actions, and were meant to be sung by children at play, with or without adult supervision. The first verse of a number of songs is a kind of stage direction, signalling the action required, such as 點蟲蟲 ʹTouch bug bugʹ, the reduplication of bug in the original suggesting baby talk, and 氹氹轉...

  6. The Non-linguistic Context
    (pp. 27-32)

    A good number of English nursery rhymes like ʹThree Blind Miceʹ or ʹLittle Jack Hornerʹ refer in a veiled fashion to political events, using the form as a cover. This technique is similar to that employed by Theocritus and others after him when they made use of the allegorical pastoral form.

    In what may well be the best known of our songs, Song No. 21, towards the end we find these lines:

    The boat has no bottom.

    It sinks, drowning two ___ boys.

    In an earlier version the two victims are fan gwai or literally ʹforeign devilsʹ, a derogatory term...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 33-34)

    Hockett has written, ʹIn an illiterate society a story or other literary work will survive only as long as it continues to be learnt by at least one person in each generationʹ.* In the more urban parts of Hong Kong, for many years the songs owed their survival mainly to two factors. The first was the prevalence of extended families living together, in which children would be cared for by grandparents or other older relatives. The second was the existence in well-to-do families of the baby amahs who recited the songs to their charges until the late 1960s and early...

  8. Appendix: The Cantonese songs and their translations in English
    (pp. 35-76)