2012 Voices of sorrow: laments, epics and melodised speech among the Yezidis in Armenia

EASA2012posterPaper at EASA 2012 Paris Ouest University 10–13th/07, in the panel "Saying the unspeakable: the uses of voice in the narration of traumatic events" which I convened with Alexandra Pillen (UCL).

In the Yezidi community of Armenia, melodized speech is the preferred way to express sad feelings and talk about traumatic events. This paper analyzes the pragmatic features of this specific vocal register, showing the way they construct a sonic space where emotions are shared.

Abstract

In the Yezidi community of Armenia, sad thoughts are often told in a melodized tone of voice. This specific vocal register, which the Yezidis call "words about" (kilamê ser) is the preferred way to express sad feelings and talk about traumatic events. It can be used in ritual contexts (such as funerals) but also in the conversations of daily life and to narrate epic stories.

The Yezidis consider kilamê ser as speech, not as music nor even as songs. Comments of the audience always focus on the words said, not the melodization of the voice. However, without the melodization, kilamê ser do not have the same efficiency. By placing the words within definite melodic contours, the semantic content is uttered in a larger temporality, intonation is neutralized and feelings are best shared with the audience.

This presentation describes the formal and performative characteristics of Yezidi melodized speech, analyzing the ways in which they help speakers create a sonic space of emotional empathy.