Rhythm, Vocabulary, Music, and a Song in Estonian

Yesterday evening and this morning I was browsing through my musical collection in order to ease telltale signs of slight infirmity (thankfully I’m a lot better now…)
A certain gem of my collection was the following song (although possibly not everyone will call it a song):

The song, which is in Estonian—although I can’t possibly classify it as either sung, chanted, screamed, or spoken—almost represented Estonia at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2013, “Meiecundimees üks Korsakov läks eile Lätti”, translates to “One Man of Ours from Korsakov went to Latvia Yesterday”

The lyrics are probably about as deranged and eccentric as the costumes you may see, and deals with the man in question having his bones broken one after another. I was reminded by Daniil Kharms’ stories which I first savored as a sophomore in college.

My family members didn’t particularly like the song and I imagine that many of you won’t be enthused by it either. BUT this post isn’t about this song, it is about a revelation I had about vocabulary learning, which is partially indebted to this demented but possibly brilliant…yes, I will say it…masterpiece.

The rhythm of the lyrics managed to induce a certain catchiness, despite the fact that the lyrics weren’t particularly sung nor was the melody anything of particular note. Perhaps it was some variety of modernistic ritual chant…

It was very easy for me to memorize the long title of the song, largely as a result of the fact that it was repeated in the song very often but also as a result of the primal rhythm which somewhat resembles a very excited heartbeat.

Later on that day I found myself looking at my Greenlandic phrasebook before going to bed. Awfully long words, I thought, how am I going to memorize everything in this book…
…and then it came to me…

…what if I used that rhythm from “Meiecundimees”, or a similar-sounding one, in order to commit these words to memory?

“Naalagaaffeqatigiit”…the Greenlandic word for the “United States of America”, a very important word for me to remember…so how did I memorize it?

Upon chanting it several times, I’ve noticed that it stuck, very much like the longer song title did.

Afterwards, I tried it with a number of other words as well, but I didn’t want to “stuff” my memory too badly before the night was up.

With most Indo-European Languages, I could manage to make out cognates and remember them that way. This was even true when I found myself committing Northern Sami vocabulary to memory (I could just search for cognates between the Scandinavian Languages or Finnish).

The only way I could do that with Greenlandic is with the modern words that came from Danish. “Beta Versioni” doesn’t strike me as too hard to remember. But for most of the words with Inuit origins? No way…

…and that is how music became necessary.

I imagine that many of you would seek to study more commonly studied European languages, and in that case you may already have methods of memory that involve tying them to languages you already know.

Chinese and Japanese with their systems of characters call for another set of memory methods altogether, but the fact is that with Greenlandic I found myself alone, without too many colorful resources or speaking partners.

So when all else fails when you need to remember something, or are just seeking to learn new words…remember my lesson…

…and face the music…

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