KUNGGUR kanggar!: A landscape of Manchu onomatopoeias

Back in November, I was fortunate enough to join a panel of wonderful scholars, all of whom I deeply respect and admire, in the plenary session of the History of Science Society 2013 annual meeting in Boston. We were all talking, in different ways and using different media, about the importance of experimentation with the form of academic narratives about objects and the history of science. It was great fun.

I talked about sonic natural history and the Manchu language in the context of Qing science and medicine, and the fabulous audience helped get things started by creating a sonic landscape made entirely of Manchu onomatopoeias: they were KUNGGUR-kangar!’ing to make thunder, picik-pacak’ing as we walked through mud, and kete-kata’ing as our horse clopped along. Together, we sonically created a thundery rainstorm full of animals and birds. After the rain stopped, we rode a horse (which shook itself off and blew its nose) to a clearing, got off the horse, walked through mud until we arrived at some bushes, and scared a bunch of insects and birds out of the foliage in the process.

Part of the talk involved listening to a recording of that onomatopoeic landscape as produced by a single voice, to compare it with our collective landscaping at the beginning of the encounter. That recording is copied below.