Commentary on Jumping Rope

         Stan Kulikowski II
    Computer Science, University of West Florida, Pensacola

This is for the grown ups.


Naming the Rhymes
Hypertextual Structure of the Rhymes
Ordering the Rhymes
More Rhymes?


Jumprope rhymes are mainly an oral tradition, perhaps one of the last in our culture of nearly universal literacy and video history. In our age, nothing seems real until we see it on television. Our young girls in keeping an oral tradition preserve for us the last vestiges of a simpler, pure era when saying was remembrance.

The primary expression of jumprope rhymes comes from girls usually 5-7 years of age who learn them on the playgrounds from other girls slightly older. Reading is not a well developed skill during this time of our lives. We rarely see media focused on girls jumping rope in the school yards. Yet we still find many of the basic rhymes documented from the early decades of this century. Furthermore, many of them deal with themes that are actively hidden from authority figures, like parents and teachers. Components of their coming adult life are glimpsed obliquely in the rhymes.

This archive is intended to be used by any person interested in the study of this activity. I do hope some young girls will enjoy it and make contributions of more rhymes; but frankly, a textual archive is not much use to little girls who can read hardly at all. This project may provide some adults with a window into a mindview of rhythm and rhyme at a very young age. For women who find this, I hope it brings back memories, assuredly good ones.

I have found no evidence of jumping rope rhymes earlier than the late 19th century. The best folklore source (Abrahams (1969)) claims that boys jumped rope in the last century and girls did not. The boys apparently did not sing while they jumped, but they had all of the rope mechanics (peppers, double dutch, snake, etc). Around 1890, unmentioned changes in undergarments permitted girls to engage in more active passtimes. They brought the songs from clapping games into jumping rope activities. Boys stopped rope jumping when the girls started.

When I started this collection of rhymes, I was initially concerned that we technical specialists had missed someone in the interfacing of worldwide networks. I work with education and school systems, sometimes teaching very young students (2nd grade, 7 years old) to use email and related applications. There seemed to be a lot of information about snakes and snails and puppy dog tails which young boys are naturally inclined to investigate. There wasn't as much sugar and spice. So I looked for a project that was distinctly feminine and childlike. I came up with dolls and jumprope. The latter seemed very managaeable in terms of data resources-- the rhymes are each very short and there aren't that many of them. Probably less than 10 thousand worldwide in all languages, I suspect.

On Valentine's Day 1993, I placed a collection of jumprope rhymes on the Internet (HUMANIST@BROWNVM.BROWN ) available by file with FTP. At the time I had found 233 of them, primarily by digging through dusty library books. A few more have been contributed to me since then. I have wanted to turn the text file into a hypertext which can be made available to anyone on the networks who is interested. As time happens to us all, I have not found the reason to do this for the last few years. I am doing this now as an exercise to illustrate how lengthy textual materials should be converted into hypertexts. I had several collections of different kinds of textual data, but finally I found that I enjoy these rhymes more than is wise perhaps. So I make available this as a global textual archive.

On during 1996, I placed version 0.1 of this hypertextual archive on the servers of the University of West Florida where I work. It was well received by technical reviewers in various academic circles, but the archive got pulled off the servers when my faculty employment changed. At that time the hit counter was registering about 9000 hits in 18 months.

I have intended to replace the HTML version with a Java based archive, especially one that could play audio recordings of the rhymes and develop an interface that could be used by preliterate girls. I have actually written some code to this effect, but never seem to get back to it. My employment no longer includes public schools and contact with the primary clients of such a device. Still, I hope someday to finish that task as a project in human computer interface design, which I still teach, but to older college students.

In the meantime, I do have concern about providing hypertextual access to the rhymes which I have not solved yet. The sections below will discuss these issues.

Naming the Rhymes

First line recognition is probably best for human memory access. Poetic memorization has a 'running start' property of the first few syllables which gets the rest of the structure en quequed for production. But that first line will sometime miss a central theme usually accepted as a title. "The Lady with the Alligator Purse" is the common name of one rhyme, but its first line is "I had a little brother". Search utilities should find any textual sequence in the archives, but I would like to find a user browsing method which is fairly distributed across several hundred elements without coherent order or set structure.

An even more extraordinary problem for naming and ordering is the use of proper verbal variables by the young children. A verbal variable is a place in the rhyme where the child singing inserts some novel value on each performance. Usually this is the name of another child being called to participate or selected for some attention. For example, one time this rhyme may begin with "Billy and Martha sitting in a tree..." and the next time "Sally and John..." We cannot really order such rhymes on any character of the language since any might be used to instantiate the variable at one time or another. I have indicated such variables with braces in the present text, and the ASCII order of the left brace is 123rd in the character set. This at least has the advantage of clumping them at the end of the alphabetical sequence if a proper variable is used as the first word of the first line of a rhyme. The use of a proper variable in verbal context is a powerful feature of child language and deserves some special recognition.

Hypertextual Structure of the Rhymes

I have displayed the basic rhyme index as a linear sequence. However, when you are on a particular rhyme there is an ==ANOTHER== button which steps us to the next rhyme in the underlying alphabetical file structure. The last ==ANOTHER== button is linked to the first rhyme in the list. This gives the ==ANOTHER== linkage structure a circular list. No matter where external users have bookmarked into the wheel of rhymes, the ==ANOTHER== will eventually display them all. I think this may be helpful to small children who may want to browse and do not appreciate the details of alphabetical order. They can bookmark anywhere in the hypertext, come back later and still retain contact with the whole.

Another feature of this hypertext archive is the availability of all the rhymes in a single text file. Someone who might like to have all the rhymes in a single file, can probably still find it on the Internet with a search engine. Someone has done that as recently as Apr 2000. Sometimes it is handy to have the whole thing in simple format rather than more than 200 separate HTML files. Indeed, the basic form I develop is still the text file. When I add new rhymes, I put them in the text file and run a short program which converts the text version into a hypertext. Those of you interested in that process of handling data in textual versus hypertextual formats may find the conversion program within the .ZIP file along with everything else. This is really just an artifact of my method of production, but some of you interested in working with text corpora might find it helpful.

Ordering the Rhymes

There is no apparent order to the basic data. An unordered set of several hundred elements is not a readily manageable structure.

Some authors put them in alphabetical order, usually based on the first line of the rhyme as a name. But that is an arbitrary order, not meaningful to the data itself nor to primary users who can barely spell to begin with. The archive is presently ordered by alphabetically with a JumpTo index tool provided at the top. But this is not a happy arrangement and I hope to find other, more useful entry methods.

The order of letters ABCD... is apparently 4500 years old, invented by scribes in the Mesopotamian city state of Urgarit, probably the first (and perhaps only) fundamental revolution in the teaching profession. The phoneme base of Urgaritic cunieform certainly eased the memorization required by Akkadian cunieform which was ideographic, like the Chinese script is still taught today.

The completeness of the letter set is demonstrated by the first act of literacy: naming all the letters. An order to the letter set helps establish that the student has done them all. However, no one seems to know why A is before B. The Greeks seem to be the earliest people who used the order to arrange lists, hence the term 'alphabetize' refers to Greek letters. But in modern times this ordering could stand an updating.

As an arbitrary ordering for textual data, the data load for language items is distributed in sporatic clumps, not of ideal efficiency for access, display or storage. For the jumprope rhymes, there seems to be an abundance of rhymes beginning with the letters 'A', 'I', and 'M'. This fact tells us little about the data-- the 'I' rhymes are mostly use of the first person pronoun but the 'A's are not from the indefinite article. The 'M's are only half related to the genitive pronoun. These are not very valuable principles for ordering.

Even worse, the most common character of our writing is not even in the traditional alphabet. The blank character in English has greater useage than 'e' by five or six times. Use of the word boundary blank apparently became popular during the middle ages after 900 AD but our pedagogical alphabet has yet to realize it has gotten a new member, more important that many of the rest. Leaving the empty space out of the alphabet is like numbering systems which never realized the value of zero.

And what about arabic numbers and all those punctuation marks? The common algorithm of schools for alphabetizing is to ignore any character not in 'A' to 'Z'. It is easy enough to program such arbitrary conventions, but this does a basic disservice to ordering character strings. Writing styles with contractions also offer difficulties to alphabetic ordering. The rhyme "I'm a little Dutch girl" does not get clumped with "I am a little girl" even though they are obviously related in content and message. "I'm a little sailor girl" comes out well removed from "I am a little sailor girl". What nonsense we derive from a seemingly sensible principle for order.

Alphabetical orderings also have trouble when several different languages (some with different alphabets) come aboard. Internet archives want to be global after all. There are a few Hebrew rhymes contributed by some Isreali girls. I have a group of polish rhymes and translations will illustrate cross-linguistic ordering problems pretty well. A top-level division by language might become necessary anyway. Most of the rhymes in an oral tradition should stay within a linguistic community and not crossover except under unusual conditions. For now I have lumped all contributions into the same pot.

I have considered putting a randomized browser in which the homepage rhyme index is differently ordered on every entry. The underlying file sequence would always stay constant (rhyme140.htm "Indian, indian" would precede rhyme141.htm "Ipsey pipsey") so external linkages directly into rhymes would remain. Changing the index would not favor any particular sets of rhymes for the casual browser. I see no reason why this would prevent another section of the hypertext having a fixed but arbitrary order like alphabetizing on the first lines. Eventually I suspect we can have more than one access method. That is why we hypertext in the first place. Preliteracy on the human user side of the interface may appreciate more flexible data arrangements.

More Rhymes?

So, this is the jumprope hypertext. Another section will explain how to add rhymes, graphics, media or whatever to this archive. I hope to add audio sound forms to at least some of these. If this archive grows large or complex enough, we may someday transfer it to CD for local personal access. I have somewhere designed a competition series of rhymes and rope mechanics intended for teams and scoring by judges. I wrote that for a neice, but she got too old for rope jumping before I got it off the desk. I can probably still find it. I hope to get that into a hypertext section before very long, at least before Jennifer graduates from college. :)

Send me email with your comments and suggestions.

Stan Kulikowski II
Computer Science Department
University of West Florida
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, Florida 32514
850-484-9891 (voice buffer, leave msg)

JUMPROPE hypertext archives c.2000 Stan Kulikowski II