21 Jul 2011

Are childhood "taunting songs" universal?

Lately John Wells's has been exploring taunting songs and the concept strangely has me hooked. Not sure why. Maybe I'm just immature but I'm finding it fun to analyse and discuss the linguistics behind these childhood taunts too. The 5-syllable nyaaah-nyah-nyah-nyaaah-nyaaah song, for example, should be widely familiar to most anglophone children and it can be overlayed onto any taunt by singing out the desired insult with this 5-note song.

So the question has been tossed around: What other languages and cultures have similar taunting songs with the same characteristics? Some commenters on John Wells's blog are affirming a Korean musical pattern of AAGAAG EEDEED based on non-sense words /ʌl.le.ɾi k͈ol.le.ɾi/. I'll take their word for it and I've been googling for other pertinent information.

I found nuggets of data-gold at one forum that directly asks the question I was seeking: Are children's taunting songs universal? There I've learned among other things that a French taunt has passed me by in gradeschool. It's called nananère and naturally, being a frivolous pop-culture topic, all the details are faithfully documented at Wikipédia in French. It looks like the combination of taunting and singing is just too tempting for any child on this planet to resist. I'd say these songs certainly appear universal.

Now another fun question that's probably even harder to answer: What equivalent ancient language taunts might have existed in Latin? Or in Etruscan? Hittite? Egyptian? Hattic? The mind boggles.


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