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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.

Ibrahim Quashoush (or Kashoush) (w) was a fireman in the Syrian city of Homs.  He was also an influential musician, and in 2010/2011 he became widely known for leading a lively chant against the Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad.  A video of this chant is available here, filmed in Hama on 27 June, 2011.  It is a vibrant performance that features short verses and a collective chorus.

Read on for more, but be warned, this is not a happy story.

Read the rest of this entry »

The term “chant” is delightfully ambiguous in English.  It can be employed for the robust shouts of protesters, and for the austere beauty of plainsong in a monastery.  Let us start with the avowedly musical forms of chant.  Most forms of song termed “chant” are not metered: that is, they do not have a regular n-beats-in-a bar structure.  Rather, the length of musical phrases tends to be dictated by the text being sung.  Similarly, melodies are sparse, harmonies often absent, and instrumental accompaniment is kept to a minimum, if present at all.  (Sung) chant is thus speech with a minimal musical ornamentation.

Listening to chanting at the other end of the extreme, we can see musical elements too.  In sports stadia and in street protest, many chants become regular successions of strongly accented syllables.  Think “U.S.A.”.  A contrasting chant among European football supporters is the Olé, Olé chant seen here (outside the football context):

Music again has insinuated itself.  There is some evidences that the simple repetition of a spoken phrase can cause the perception of that phrase to switch from speech to song.  Diana Deutsch has called this the “speech to song illusion”, and it is illustrated at this page.  Repetition of a short phrase is a feature of both protest and prayer, so it is unsurprising that we find this leaky blending of speech and song in both domains.

If you want to read more, here is a short paper on the topic by myself.

Chanting seems to be a very effective means of embodying and sustaining group identity.  Many chants are little more than labels the group chooses to apply to itself.  The very common and multi-purpose chant of “U. S. A.” is a good example.

So the odd case of the Tottenham Hotspur chant merits attention.  The London football club has traditionally had strong ties to the local Jewish community.   Supporters refer to themselves as the “Yid Army”, and incorporate this term in many of their chants.  Cries of anti-semitism (“yid” is widely perceived as a pejorative term for jews) seem a little odd in this instance, as the supporters adopted the term themselves.   David Cameron has seen fit to opine that the use of  chants including the term “yid” should be tolerated, but there has been strong opposition from other quarters, and recently, occasional arrests for such chanting.

To add to the problem, opposition fans have taken to hissing loudly during matches, in apparent reference to the gas chambers of the holocaust.

A lighter view of the chant is provided in this video: