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I am having a very hard time coming up with a good way to describe the phenomenon that I am thinking of, but many people will recognize it. I am talking about the kind of singing rhythm that people use when contrasting two different points. Usually it starts on a high note and continues monotonically until the end of the sentence, and then dips slightly. Then, the same thing happens in the second sentence, but with a bigger dip at the end. Usually the first word is "if" and is emphasized heavily. This tune is also often accompanied by a hand gesture where the speaker makes a dipping motion with his thumb. Sometimes, this is done while reading an argument in a text, but other times this is done when the speaker is saying his own words.

"IF we're holding with some random position in this debate, then we have a CONsequence. BUT IIIIIFFF we hold this other position, then the consequence is dif-erent."

Where does this chanting cadence come from, and why is it so prevalent?

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I could have sworn this question exists somewhere already, but I can't find it at all. –  Daniel Apr 25 '13 at 19:44
I've heard this is from a mnemonic technique used for Talmud study - having a tune and cadence is better for memorization. –  Charles Koppelman Apr 25 '13 at 21:23
don't forget the thumb motion, it is an essential part of the sing-song chant –  Menachem Apr 25 '13 at 23:48
@Menachem, yes IsaacMoses described it as "the sound you make while your thumb is diving." :) –  Daniel Apr 26 '13 at 0:34
@WAF you added the 'memory' tag, which seems to presuppose an answer similar to Charles Koppelman's comment above: the question per se is not about memory AFAICT. Do you disagree? –  msh210 Apr 26 '13 at 5:01

1 Answer 1

Presumably from the gemarah Megillah 32a.

ר' שפטיה אמר ר' יוחנן: one who reads the Torah without a pleasant voice,or one who learns Mishsnah without a tune...(gemarah brings a passuk about this person and compares it to sin).

Tosfos explains they used to learn with a tune since they learned by heart and this way they remembered it.

This seems to be a very old tradition.

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Also there is a passuk in tehillim זְמִרוֹת, הָיוּ-לִי חֻקֶּיךָ-- בְּבֵית מְגוּרָי –  sam Apr 26 '13 at 2:34
Wouldn't this mean that he would have to use the tune for every single word? That's not how people use it, at least in modern times. People generally use the tune every so often. –  Daniel Apr 26 '13 at 3:30
Yea because its written down,but the tune has stayed.If you hear how older people learn you can hear a tune. –  sam Apr 26 '13 at 3:32
But I'm talking about this particular tune, which generally indicates that the speaker is contrasting two points, and which is often used when someone is speaking his own words rather than reading text. –  Daniel Apr 26 '13 at 3:33
@Daniel, you've never heard someone read the text with the tune? I definitely have. I have so often that I find it odd when someone overlays the tune onto their own words (which I've heard plenty, but which still sounds odd to me). –  Seth J Apr 26 '13 at 13:44

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