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Gibb Sahib Chanteys in Royal Navy? (96* d) RE: Chanteys in Royal Navy? 04 May 19


Phil,

I'm going to restate my basic position on this, for whatever it's worth.

Although I have seen some evidence for so-and-so not being allowed (I think the word "banned" is too strong, and misplaces the emphasis), I don't think that's the point.

And I'm sympathetic to the reasoning about chanties not being "needed." But I counter that with the reasoning that chanties have never been needed. When sailing ships are operated today, even with small crews, people don't use chanties (for instance).

Though this may seem like an exaggeration, it's to illustrate my point: You don't find many people dancing the polka in India. Yet, we don't assume that they must have polka there based on the idea that polka is dance music and surely Indians must dance. Polka simply isn't a part of the Indian culture. And even if we find some references to instances of polka being danced in India, that does not make it part of Indian culture.

Chanties weren't in the Royal Navy, so my logic goes, because they weren't. It's backwards to assume they would have been and then try to prove that they were or even to try too much to say why they weren't. I softened the latter ("try too much") because, ahem, I'm a reasonable person and I can understand the context of why it might be interesting to speculate.

The chanty genre is the product of a culture which, due to historical circumstances X, Y, and Z, found application in fields, on rivers, on wharves, and in merchant ships, where the people that share that culture lived it. (I define culture simply, after Thomas Turino, as habits of thought and practices shared among individuals.)

Now, if we equivocate and use the term "polka" to encompass some unhelpfully large set of things, say, "group dancing" then we'll see Rajasthani ghumar dance as "polka." But who wants to do that? Why? What function does it serve to caste such a wide net except to try to win some argument?

It's clear that we are working with different definitions of chanty.
I published an article exploring the term "chanty" (again, for whatever it's worth), where the goal was not primarily/simply to geek out on the *word*, but rather because the use of the word(s) is one piece of narrowing down what the thing is. We can see what things people called "chanty." Because people use words variably, that doesn't mean we have to accept as chanty everything that someone calls "chanty"—that's where historiography and analysis comes in. On the other side is to find things that are like what has been called (by most) "chanty" and identify other things that resemble that even if not called that in particular instances. Tracing the word is just a tool to get us closer to identifying the form of the thing, but once we get a handle on the form of the thing, we can compare forms directly (leaving aside labels and possible equivocation).

Schreffler, Gibb. 2017. "'The Execrable Term': A Contentious History of Chanty." American Speech 92.4: 429-458.
https://read.dukeupress.edu/american-speech/article-abstract/92/4/429/134095/The

Hey, maybe polka *is/was* a huge part of Indian culture, but we just don't know it and it will take some scholar to reveal this to us. The possibility of chanties in the Royal Navy does seem to me more likely than polka in India, and I don't think it's ridiculous at all to speculate on the former. However, all that I know so far -- which is not based on conventional wisdom and folklore -- suggest to *me* that one won't get much mileage out of the inquiry. Your mileage may vary.


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