View Full Version : Foreign language self-study c. 1910 -- cylinder records

08-21-2016, 05:11 AM
I know that one way to learn a foreign language c. 1910 was to play (wax) cylinder records on a phonograph. But I'm not sure how to reference that accurately while also being clear to a modern reader. Please tell me if it make sense if I write:

"I had spent many hours back in Lenox sitting by the phonograph, playing my Chinese-instruction cylinder records over and over again ..."

Or is it more accurate/proper to write: "I had spent many hours back in Lenox playing my Chinese-instruction cylinder phonograph records over and over again ..."

AW Admin
08-21-2016, 05:15 AM
First, you need to find out how the cylinders were referred to in that era; I know Shaw references them in My Fair Lady, but you could likely find references in periodicals of the time, or in advertisements or other ephemera on collector's sites.

The OED is worth checking as well, because of the in context citations.

Second, I doubt there were recordings made of a commercial sort of Chinese; you might invent a friend who is a linguist who made them, or something. And I suspect that it would be referred to as Mandarin, if that is the dialect in question, by someone of the era.

Thirdly, the use of back in that way is, I suspect, not something you'd see in the era, but I'm not sure, and you might know better.

08-21-2016, 05:45 AM
I like the idea of looking for advertisements -- thanks for the tip. And you raise a good point about "Mandarin." I'm just not sure the average reader will know about Mandarin vs. dialects (i.e., that there is not just one "Chinese" that people speak).
As for "commercial sort of Chinese," that shouldn't be a problem because there's a connection to the diplomatic corps.

08-21-2016, 06:08 AM
Looking at advertisements from that time reveals that they were called "records," even though they were wax cylinders rather than what we know as records.
Thanks again for the tip!

08-21-2016, 07:44 AM
In Cheaper By the Dozen, they learn French using that method, iirc. Might be worth reading that section to see what terminology they use to describe it.

08-21-2016, 11:35 AM
Is the cylindrical vs. disc shape important to the story? Why not just let the idea of 'phonograph' be enough to indicate the tech? For that matter, I'd be tempted to use 'Gramaphone', which was around in the era, and may have been considered a generic, rather than a brand name, by then. It has that recognition factor - the big morning-glory shaped horn speaks of the era.

"I had spent many hours back in Lenox sitting by the Gramaphone, playing my Chinese-instruction recordings over and over again ..."

If it fits with your story and your research.

08-22-2016, 10:41 AM
Have you tried using the terminology from the Wiki article on phonograph cylinders? It's quite extensive. Looks like before the WW1, they were as popular as disc records, BUT exactly in 1910s the latter won.


And here is a Wiki article on Bronisław Piłsudski, an anthropologist who preserved the sounds of the Sakhalin Ainu language on wax cylinders, which were restored in the 1960s. You might have someone do the same in your book.


08-28-2016, 04:37 AM
Regarding Frimble3's suggested text: "I had spent many hours back in Lenox sitting by the Gramaphone, playing my Chinese-instruction recordings over and over again ..."

I LIKE this! A very elegant way of getting around the matter. So even though I've got the answer, I like your phrasing better and will use it.

I appreciate Silva and Tocotin weighing in on this as well.