Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Taxonomy Song

My husband has come up with a song for Kyla, our 2-year-old daughter; the subject is, of all things, taxonomy. Sung to the tune of "The Flintstones" theme, it goes:

Kyla, has a phyla
And a family and an order too.
She's a lass who's got class
And a genus just like me and you.

The only problem is that "phyla" is a plural noun, and as such, cannot grammatically be preceded with "a". I've struggled with that first line and simply cannot come up with a replacement that scans well. There is some precedent for treating Latin plurals as singular nouns in English: data, the plural of the second-declension neuter noun datum, is probably the most well-known example. But "phyla", to the best of my knowledge, is not one of them, and I'm stuck contemplating this one flaw to a song that I find otherwise perfect. Anyone got a solution?

9 comments:

Ellie said...

Could you just drop the "a" and say "Kyla has phyla" since phyla is plural and "has" is your verb?

Language Lover said...

No, because an animal only belongs to one phylum.

Marve said...

"Phylum" with a shwa "u" works all right--the assonance is enough to make it singable.

Language Lover said...

You're right, Marve. But it's such a shame not to find a way to make "phyla" work, since nothing else rhymes so perfectly with "Kyla". :)

MuPu said...

"Kyla has some phyla" seems to work. (I removed the comma, since its grammatical function has nothing to do with the pause in the music — poetic license notwithstanding.)

Language Lover said...

You're right about the comma, but I thought it was common to use punctuation in lyrics to indicate pauses; I might be wrong about that. As for your suggestion, I think it suffers from the same problem as Ellie's, which is that a person cannot have more than one phylum. This is probably a lost cause. :)

MuPu said...

Ah, yes. I mistook "has" to mean that she "possessed" these things (as if they were a collection of her imaginary friends).

I'll stand by my comma surgery. But, if you were to go the route of punctuating your pauses with commas, you'd have to place another one between "a" and "lass" to be consistent.

This wording might be a little stilted, but it's metrically sound:

Orders, families, phyla
How to classify our dear Kyla?
She's a lass who's got class
And a genus like the rest of us.

Language Lover said...

This is progress---I like the first line! And yes, I stand corrected on the commas, though they're irrelevant in your new version. Thanks for playing along!

dennis hodgson said...

"Data" may be a singular noun in general usage, but in scientific textbooks (which I edited for 20 years), "data" was almost always used as a plural. "Agenda" is a better example of a plural noun that is almost always treated as singular.