УДК 39

Studying the Structure of Vietnamese Children's Songs

Chu Thi Ha Thanh PhD – Vinh University, Vietnam.

Abstract: Any folk literature work does exist in the form of certain types of structures. However, for the children's song in particular, it implies a complex nature itself, leading to the complexity in its structural forms. In this research, the concentration would be on some typical structural forms of the children's songs including circle structure, reverse structure, rolling structure, and rhyme structure. These structural forms, which are not all over, but also demonstrates the rich and diversity of the children's songs in term of structures.

Keywords: Versification of children’s songs, Structure of children’s songs, Folklore for children, Literature for children.

Any folk literature work does exist in the form of certain types of structures. However, for the children's song in particular, it implies a complex nature itself, leading to the complexity in its structural forms. Children's song includes many different types of popular poetry, hence its poetic genre and structure interfere between these different types. These characteristics present not only the complexity and heterogeneity of the prosodial elements in the children's song but also the typical distinct characteristics of this type of folk poetry. From different structural forms as well as types of poetic rhyme, it can be seen obviously that children's songs are always suitable with the thinking and the way of speaking of children. It shows the immature, naive and innocence of the children. The above-mentioned characteristics of poetry and structure shows that the composition of the children's songs is in sudden inspiration, a particular characteristic of the structure and outline of the lyrical poetry in general. Especially with the children's songs, the lyrics are from the basis of random ideas and outlines expressing the rustic soul of children toward various natural and social phenomena that the children cannot systematize nor select the typical generalization. This kind of inspiration can only arise from the thoughts of childhood that do not have enough experience and firm stuff in their lives.

According to the Vietnamese Dictionary, the structure is defined as "the full set of internal relations between the components that make up a perfect whole" [149, pg. 218]. Meanwhile, as stated in the Dictionary of Literary Terms, the structure of a literary work is "the entire complex and dynamic composition of the works", and "the internal link among the specific architectural contents of the work" [29, pg.106].

Thus, the conceptual content of structure of the literary works in comparison with that of structure in general is consistent and includes the following aspects:

- Firstly, the elements that create literacy work are in need to be defined.

- Secondly, the relationship among these elements. However this is not only the simple, direct relationship that is purely the sum of the surface elements, but more important reflecting in the " internal links" of the works.

- Finally, it is necessary to link all these elements into a certain perfect whole based on their relationships. In other words, these elements need to be generalized and modeled with sketch or symbols.

In particularly, as children's song are considered a "specific and special" type of folklore, the study of its elements in the system of poetic genres is very difficult. So far there are no specific, in-depth researches on the structure of children's songs. There are authors, in their study of folklore genres, mentioned on characteristics of structural forms of folk literature in terms of categories that relating to specific children's songs. Nguyen Xuan Kinh, in his work named "Prosody of folk-song" has devoted a chapter to discuss about the structure of folk-song. According to him, "the vague singings" are in the form of "multi-positional connected structure" of which "there are no coherent relationship among ideas". He showed evidence for this discover in the words of a children's song [63, pg.161].

Pham Thu Yen believed that "the circle structure is commonly used in rhyme songs or songs that children normally sing while playing their games". According to the author, the circle structure should be considered as structural measure rather than structural form of lyrical folk poetry [162, pg.37]. The distinction between structural measure and structural form, to me, is a scientific work.

In fact the "ring structure" was proposed by B.M. Zurmunxki in a treatise on poetry. "Features of this structure is that the last sentence of the song is connected with its opening sentence, and so the song moves under a continuous circle, with no end" [92, pg.307].

Admittedly, in the world of folklore study, the Russian folklorists have had significant contributions in the study of the structural characteristics of the lyrical folk poetry. Researchers have pointed out many structural models of lyrical folk songs. A.N. Vexelopxki has given structural diagram on the principle of "psychological parallel", B.M Xocolop has generalized in the model of "narrowing the imaging hierarchy", and X.G. Lazuchin has given the model of "chained structure" [92, pg.307]. According to Bui Manh Nhi, "the formula is the unit cells that make up the song”. According to the author, the formula might be a word, a phrase, a line of poetry, or a group of lines of poetry. "The common signal of the formulas is in the repetition and typical mode" [92, pg.308]. We believe that this concept of Bui Manh Nhi is closely related to Dang Van Lung's findings in an article published from the year 1960s. In this article the author has pointed out the duplicate elements in folk lyricism in different aspects: image, texture, language, etc., through the analysis and illustrates of a rich and persuasive system of folk songs. These repeating elements showed the expression of a certain number of forms of organizing the components that make up the structure folk works [ 92, pg.294].

In short, the above-mentioned studies, either directly or indirectly referring to the structural problems in children's songs, are practical clues for our study, more or less.

The structural form of children's song

Due to the complexity and heterogeneity of the elements forming children's songs, in the collecting and analyzing process of data, we have realized that it was difficult to generalize the structure of children's songs into typical patterns. Instead, the structural models and forms that we have mentioned in this articles are not aimed to generalize all structural forms of children's songs, but only forms that are most visible and popular.

1 . The Circle Structure

This structure includes rhymes with its structural style in which the last sentence of the song is connected with the beginning sentence, forming a closed cycle. The oratorio can last the songs as long as he likes. Based on the way in that the elements are organized in each rhyme, we divide this circle structures into three different types as below:

a) Revolving Circle Structure

Rhymes in this type are usually made up of four lines of poetry, of which two lines forming a poetic image; and the second image is the reflection of the first image by rotating the lines in each image. As a result, the rhymes may last forever.

For example :

Ants climbing on to the banyan-tree

Climbing back and force in a short branch

Ants climbing on to peach tree

Climb force and back in a short branch

Ants climbing on to the banyan-tree

Climbing back and force in a short branch

b) Rotating Circle Structure

The poetic images are hooked together in order that the last image of the first poetry line is also the first image of the second poetry line; the last image of the second poetry line is also the first image of the third poetry line; so on so forth leading to the last image of the song is also back with the first image, so that rhymes last forever.

For example:

Magpie is Munia’s uncle

Munia is Black-necked grackle starling’s aunt

Black- necked grackle starling is Blackbird’s avuncular

Blackbird is Chinese starling’s junior

Chinese starling is Magpie’s mother

Magpie is Munia’s uncle…..

The circle structure under the form of elastic stretching as mentioned above are suitable for children during their oratorio and singing in the games. Children might extend the game forever. Funny, and even nonsense lyrics, in this situation, really attract the children into the game. They perform and sing songs enjoyably, frolic with natural plants and flowers, and sing the lyrics nonstop-ably. The importance of the rhyme lyrics is not on what they are mentioning about, but how and by what method they are expressed. Children are not really interested in the meaning of the songs. The key point is that these songs have played an important role for the children to organize and extend the games. The rhymes that exist from one life to another, from one countryside to the others, creating an innocent and carefree soul for the children.

2. The Reverse Structure

This type of structure seems unusual, at first. In the opening, there is usually forewords noticing this paradox. The authors put intentionally the pairs of images, objects, phenomena in the life paired together and exchanging properties, characteristics and function of this object to another and vice versa. By doing that the contrasting and funny images are created, and children feel ridiculously excited about that. However, these reverses were not always in a same way, they depend on the characteristics of each object and the objects themselves.

a) The disorder of the two objects:

- Assigning the function of one object to another and vice versa.

For example:

Cows stay on top of the bamboo tree

Magpies pull haul a plough excitedly

- Assigning the characteristics/properties of one object to another and vice versa.

For example:

Bubble is sunk

Ironwood is floatable

Sticky rice is hard and solid

Stone is resistant

Pig's liver is bitter

Soapberry is buttery taste

- Assigning the habitat of one object to another and vice versa.

For example

Buffalo goes into the water

The boat runs ashore

Grammatically, each object forms a complete sentence. The exchange of objects does not change the grammatical form of the sentence.

b) The disorder in the composition of an object:

Novicova, in Composing Russian Folk Poetries believed that "the reversibility of concept leads to a situation in which within a poetic sentence, the complement and adverbial phrase play the role of the subject while the subject, in turn, plays the roles of the complement and adverbial phrase. For example: not "the old lady stirs the barrel of flour", but "the barrel of flour stirs the old lady"; not "a man goes home" but "the house goes to the man" [97, pg.258]

This situation also appears in the Vietnamese children's songs, such as:

Eel-pot crawls into eel

A herd of locusts catches perch

Paddy seeds bite the rats in baskets

One hundred rice leaves expel the buffalo

Warblers bite the hawks' necks

The chicks carry the crows to somewhere

These contradict rhymes are cheerful and witty, amuse children themselves and help them have fun and sing innocently and excitedly. Especially, this reverse form makes a strong impression on the children; helps them memorable and catchy. The reason is that the child's psychology and physiology of this age is still sensitive to whatever that is unusual and not normal. At this stage, children like to say the opposite phase and do the opposite sites, showing their mischievous but intelligent characteristics. Moreover, the reverse order of the children's songs is also an effective method of education. The nature of the phenomena is taught through their disorder and contrast. Obviously, this does not include some situations in which some funny folk-songs also show the reverse side which containing deep implications and hints about the life or the paradox of injustice in society that are imported into the children's songs. "Those are pictures on the social animals that are shown in rich fable, contain deep social implications" [144]. On the side of language structure, it might be considered as a form of swapping the positions of different components in the sentences (term exchange) to alter the function of grammar and semantics. The disorder in the positions of the subject and the objects make the song more attractive.

3. The Rolling Structure

The term "rolling" that being used in this article is to refer to a type of structure of the children's songs rather than a rhetorical method or measure in literature style (in which the rhetorical repeated words are used repeated intentionally for the purpose of emphasizing the ideas, expansion of the ideas, or evocation of the emotions of readers, listeners) [67, pg.93].

The rolling structure in children's songs is a structural form in which some typical elements or characteristics are repeated following certain rules to structure the plot of a children's song. The expressions of the rolling structure might be considered as creative ways. There are different types of rolling structure being used in children's songs including the rolling of words, terms, sentences, paragraphs, syntaxes, etc following certain patterns and in different places.

a) Increasing rolling

There are some children's songs that might be classified as increasing rolling structure. For example:

Even bell is worthless

So do not mentioning a piece of terracotta jar in the bamboo grove

Even bell is not allowed to eat sweetened porridge

So there is no hope for the piece of terracotta jar to eat steamed glutinous rice

This form of structure is characterized in which two consecutive sentences forming a structural unit. The development of a children's song is from the repetition of two structural units or more, but not totally repetition but including some changes in words or phrases in order to emphasize or increase the level of ideas.

b) Rolling in syntax

Some children's songs under the form of mudguard (description of things, matters, birds, fruits, etc) are structured as rolling in their syntaxes. The song is the combination of sentences having the same grammatical structure. Two consecutive lines form a complete sentence describing an idea, in order to describe the nature and functional characteristics of the object, phenomenon: Shaving its head to become monk

Is the hibiscus flower

Smoke rises in curls

Is the patchouli flower

Water flowed down like rain

Is the "watering flower"

Attending the wedding

Is the mulberry flower

In the above mentioned songs, it is not purposed to judge the meanings of the sentences are "right" or "wrong". Children's songs belong to this type of rolling structure are normally based on the name of things, objects or phenomenon to form sentences - a way to sing just for fun for the children, "children sing, children play". In terms of language, this might be considered as "playing on words". That is, to use a component in the structure of the object's name that has the same "sound" or "word" with a phenomenon of life to create a pleasant connection in ideas. This follows the way of children's thinking, not the rules of the real life.

4. The Rhyme Structure

Any poem always use rhyme to link the elements, components altogether to structure its content. There is obvious that without rhyme, there would be no longer poems. However, apart from the linkage in rhymes, the invisible linkage between the sentences and paragraphs based on their content and meaning themselves are more important. The self-expression implies this linkage in any literary structure. This is necessary to strengthen that for children's songs in particular, as there is normally no connection in the meaning of sentences, if there is no linkage in rhyme among sentences, these sentences would become undisciplined and let themselves slide. Vu Ngoc Khanh commented: "most of the children's songs are patched up sentences and fragmentary passages, concentrating on the rhymes rather than meanings" [172, pg.719].

For example:

One, two, three, four

Making date to play more

Go to the God’s gate

Pray uncle, pray aunt

Carrying dog by the spool

Carrying goat back to the school

This rhyme structure emphasizes the role of rhymes in organizing and linking of elements and components to form a complete children's songs. It could be criticized that the structures of children's songs in these cases are illogical. However, this illogical characteristics always exist in the logic of participants performing these children's songs. This type of confused structure is suitable to the disordered thinking of children, at their ages. This derives from the characteristics of the cognitive processes of children. Perception of the children is general rather than detailed nor proactive. For the childhood, they mostly think in "shapes, sounds, colors and emotions" (Usinxki), received outside things, objects and phenomenon mainly from their impression rather than their logical thinking. On the other hand, with the emergence of high frequency of rhymes in children's songs, the rhyme structure plays an important role in emphasizing the special meaning of rhymes in the production process of the children's songs. Besides rhythm, rhyme is also a crucial factor in this type of folk poetry. Children's songs might have no meanings, but might not be without rhymes. Poetry that is in rich of rhyme would be more attractive to and easy to remember by the children.

The structural forms of children's songs that have been mentioned in this article, which are not all over, but also demonstrates the rich and diversity of the children's songs in term of structures. There are some structures show the author's intentions during the creative process (i.e. rolling structure; circle structure). However, besides that there are still some other kinds of structure that are considered "loose", "unfixed" and "identifiable natural" (i.e. reverse structure; rhyme structure). Apart from the influence and domination of the living environment or the action expression of children, the structures in children's songs are not only methods forming and linking factors and components to create a perfect whole of this popular art, but also the means for existence and passing from one generation to another of the children's songs.


1. Le Ba Han, Tran Dinh Su, Nguyen Khac Phi (Editor) (1992), Dictionary of literary terms, Education Publishing House, Hanoi.

2. Nguyen Xuan Kinh (1992), Prosody of folk-song, Social Sciences Publishing House, Hanoi.

3. Bui Manh Nhi, Ho Quoc Hung, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Diep (1999), The Vietnamese Literature and Folklore - the Study, Education Publishing House, Hanoi.

4. Novicova A. M (1983), Russian Folk Poetry, Volume I, (translated by Do Hong Chung and Chu Xuan Dien), University and Professional School Publishing House, Hanoi.

5. Nguyen Dinh Trung (1997), "Contrary Mudguards - a Unique Children's Song Style", Folklore Magazine, (1), pg.80-84.

6. Vietnamese Dictionary (2000), Institute of Linguistics, Center for the Dictionary, Da Nang Publishing House.

7. Pham Thu Yen (1998), The Art Worlds of Folk-songs, Education Publishing House, Hanoi.

8. Nguyen Thuy Loan, Dang Dieu Trang, Nguyen Huy Hong, Tran Hoang (collected and edited) (1997), Children's Songs and the Vietnamese Children's Games, Culture Publishing House, Hanoi

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