Abstract

The sung verse of Kmhmu highlanders involves a complex and unique system of pervasive canonical parallelism. “Reverse words” in the first member of a parallel set rhyme in a crosswise relation with their meaningful counterparts in the second member of the set. Within this system, some singers employ “orphan lines,” where only the first member is sung, and listeners must guess what the meaningful line would be. Roman Jakobson's encouragement to examine such orphan lines in terms of their “near and distant” environment is taken as inspiration to explore the image of parentless children in Kmhmu songs about orphans and to suggest lessons for our own ethnographic practice.

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