I set up this small blog to keep notes on chanting and joint speech. The project has grown, and now has a home at http://jointspeech.ucd.ie. There you will find plenty of examples, an archive, documentation, a free book, and scientific talks. There is even a small blog that continues the work where this now leaves off.

Here are two recent examples of chanting robots. These would make good fodder for discussion: why do they exist, why do they fail (or succeed), what can we learn?

The first is from Korea, where robotic substitutes for fans make the stadium seem less of a deserted wasteland:

A BBC report is here.

The second is an example of questionable use of Pepper, the annoyingly cute robot most likely to feature in a public display of science near you. Pepper is being used to chant at Buddhist funeral rituals. A brief report is here.

In conversational speech, we usually interpret the activity using a message passing metaphor, which imposes a categorical distinction between speakers and listeners. In joint speech, this is usually unhelpful. But sometimes there is a definite addressee, as in this protest video where the citizens chant “Do your job” to an elected representative. The improvisatory nature of the occasion is probably an important feature here.


Chanting has a regular occurrence in some sports but is not normally found in others.  Soccer probably has the richest chanting tradition, but it is a significant element in basketball, wrestling, ice hockey, and many others.   Chanting is unusual, or non-existent in tennis, hurling (an Irish sport), rugby, and more.

Which makes this all the more delightful:

We saw the familiar Call-and-Response structure found in both prayer and political demonstration, that is capable of scaffolding a strongly differentiated belief.  This is how Theology and Political Ideology both make use of Joint Speech.  The former ritualises it, in keeping with its sense of continuity of belief. The latter is only rarely able to stabilize its beliefs sufficiently for effective use of this, until it becomes likewise ritualised in the ceremonies of the State, or in Parades of Commemoration.

Another structure we need a name for is of the form:

Leader:  phrase 1

All: phrase 1

Leader: phrase 2

All: phrase 2


This form is found in the swearing of secular oaths of allegiance when new citizens are sworn in.  It is also found in prayers within the main mosque at Raqqa, within the current Caliphate, set up the the Islamic State.  Students of Joint Speech might like to ponder what the relationship between individual belief and the associated institutions of power is that is indexed by this structure.


A cursory summary, courtesy of Google Scholar, reveals in excess of 9,000 academic publications devoted to the marginal and highly localised phenomenon of glossolalia, or speaking in tongues.  The same method, when turned towards joint speech, collective speech, choral speech, or synchronous speech, shows less than 800 academic publications.  There is an order of magnitude less in the observational and scientific canon about the widespread practice of joint speech that stitches together our rituals, our liturgies, our secular ceremonies, and our school practices than is to be found in the study of an isolated phenomenon that few of us will ever encounter.

How heartening then to see some careful documentation of chant in a specific situation. Kamal Moghith has recently published a book entitled “Chants of the Egyptian Revolution“.  In it, he collates chants from different eras, as part of different and successive political movements.  He considers the relation between the concerns of specific groups, such as professors, and the larger social currents within which these aspirations become enfolded.  

So far I have only been able to find announcement of the launch.  I hope a translation may some day appear.  We need more observation, careful documentation, and to integrate these observations in our discourse of our singular and collective selves. 

The wisdom of crowds may be an over-used phrase, and the stupidity of the lynch mob springs to mind as testament to the simplistic expression of intention that typically accompanies joint speaking. However we might note that both religious prayer and protest demonstrations frequently make use of a call-and-response scaffolding that allows somewhat more elaborate and articulate expression of collective sentiment. In protest, call-and-response is usually limited to one or two eliciting questions (“What do we want? Free education! When do we want it? Now!”), but in religion, the call and response is typically integrated into liturgical ritual, supported by printed texts, allowing sequences of call and response that extend over many turns, and that include complex expression of finely tuned theological beliefs. Read the rest of this entry »

“¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!”  This chant was a prominent feature of support in Salvador Allende’s Chilean election campaign leading to his democratic election in 1970.  In 1973, of course, the elected government was overthrown in a CIA backed coup, installing the dictator Pinochet.   In the same year, the chant became a popular song that has been employed in many popular struggles up to the present.  It recurs in many languages.

However I want to point to the rhythmic structure of the chant.  In its basic form, this has a two beat structure with accents on beats 1 and 3 of the first bar, and 1, 2 and 3 of the second.  This pattern is almost certainly much older than the popular Chilean chant, and seems to be globally prevalent.  Examples after the fold, and please add your examples in the comments!

Read the rest of this entry »

And now back to our regular programming . . .

Speaking, declaiming, shouting, and singing together allows the expression of group feelings: Feelings that are often simple, usually strong, sometimes stupid, but always rooted in the collective identity that so finds expression.  This underlies the use of collective speaking in oaths and ceremonies, rituals and rites, because we take the collective voice very seriously.

How horrible then to find this ability misused by corporations, as employees are required to participate in a company-sponsored chant.   Walmart seem to be particularly enthused by this form of ritual humiliation of their employees as they get them to chant “Who’s number 1? . . . The customer!  What do we want to be? . . . Accident free!!”  I’m sure other corporations do this too without a thought.

Videos of this practice abound.  Here’s just one sad sample:


Feel free to provide illustrations by other corporations in the comments.