The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #66740   Message #2176254
Posted By: Malcolm Douglas
22-Oct-07 - 12:21 AM
Thread Name: Folklore: Van Diemen's Land
Subject: RE: Folklore: Van Dieman's Land
If there is any evidence that 'The Female Transport' has ever been found in oral currency in Australia (or anywhere else, for that matter), I'd be interested in hearing about it.

When transcribing recordings made from oral tradition, the transcriber faces a whole series of decisions. How far is it appropriate or relevant to attempt to reproduce dialectal pronounciation or accent? What is more important; a faithful reproduction (insofar as this is possible without the use of phonetic symbols) of the sound of the words, or a transcription that, by using standard spelling except where rhyme or metre dictates otherwise, makes clear their meaning?

'Collectors' and, more recently, ethnomusicologists, have taken a whole range of approaches depending on what they were trying to achieve. Kenneth Peacock's comments (Songs of the Newfoundland Outports I, xxiii) are informative:

'Possibly the most vexing problems of preparing traditional songs for publication are concerned with editing the texts. Some researchers of more scientific bent consider it mandatory to reproduce each and every syllable the way the informant pronounced it. This is next to impossible even within the limitations of a strict phonetic system, but when ordinary written English is used to suggest the nuances of a dialect the result is often ludicrous. As an exercise in popular phonetics, I tried this method on one or two Newfoundland songs. For example, the first line of She's Like the Swallow in one of the Newfoundland dialects comes out something like this: "Shay's loik de swellah det floiz sa hoigh." Rather than have my poor readers lose their sanity ploughing through several hundred pages of this, I have reluctantly forsaken precision for readability.'

Although there is an argument for strict phonetic transcription, that is really the province of the academic musicologist rather than the ordinary student of folk song. It is educational to look at transcriptions made by the traditional singers themselves. I've seen quite a few as it happens; mainly written down in the first decade of the 20th century (illiteracy was not as common among the rural and urban poor as people seem to think). Often a singer wouldn't recall all the words of a song that they may not have sung for years when visited by a 'collector', and sometimes they would write the rest down later and send it on. Spelling might be non-standard in some cases, but they didn't go in for 'dialect' spelling. If the word was 'my', then that's what they wrote; regardless of whether they pronounced it 'me', or 'moy', or 'ma'. They may not have been highly educated, but they weren't ignorant or stupid.

When it comes to transcribing lyrics from modern, commercially recorded arrangements made by professional performers, however, these considerations don't apply. Such transcriptions may be useful for people who want to know exactly what a favourite entertainer sang, but pronounciation is mostly irrelevant. People who have a superficial acquaintance with transcriptions made from tradition often tend to render 'my' as 'me' and to omit final -g as a matter of course, but they are usually inconsistent, making no attempt to render other individualities of pronounciation.

These revival singers have, as often as not, learned their songs from print sources in any case. 'The Female Transport', so far as I can tell, has never been found in tradition. My guess (though better information would be welcome) would be that the words were taken from a broadside and a tune set to them shortly before Frankie recorded her arrangement. To insist on 'me' instead of 'my' in this sort of context risks being not only silly and pretentious but, more importantly, seriously misleading.