Welcoming the Approaching Festive Season: A Corpus-Based Investigation of “Xuân” Clusters in Vietnamese Tết Music

Vietnam, together with many other Asian countries, is culturally well-known for their celebrations on the occasion of Lunar New Year, or Tết. This time is long believed to be a fresh start for an incredible new journey. Tết is also a public holiday in Vietnam, when most services are closed and people come back home to reunite with their family and friends. Tết has been a time-honoured tradition of Vietnamese people, associated with many cultural practices passed down from generation to generation. Like the diverse collection of Christmas songs, Vietnamese people possess thousands of Tết songs, varied in style, messages and melody.

The data

The corpus is constructed from the playlists of Gala Nhạc Việt over three years: 2022, 2021 and 2020. Gala Nhạc Việt is a periodic recorded musical show, released by HNH Entertainment and T Production. After 10 years with a lot of positive remarks from the audience, Gala Nhạc Việt is now recognised as the show with the most Tết musical products in Vietnam. I started with the playlists released on the YouTube channel of Gala Nhạc Việt and collected the lyrics provided in the video description. Some videos did not have the lyrics in the description so I had to google the lyrics instead. After that, I read the lyrics several times to finalise the list. Those that are not relevant to the theme of Tết are excluded and those repeated over the years are only included once. The finalised corpus consists of 40 songs, consisting of 11,524 words in total. Words and phrases that divide different parts of a song (chorus, rap, coda, etc.) are also excluded from the lyrics.

Most common words and most common clusters

The most frequently used word in the corpus is “xuân” (spring). The occurrence of “xuân” is significantly higher than the second-most frequently used word recorded – “Tết”. The term “xuân” is used in various contexts, in diverse combinations with other words and phrases, setting the atmosphere for the songs of Tết. This blog focuses on different combinations of the word “xuân” in the corpus of Tết songs.

RankVietnamese wordEnglish translationFrequencyNormalised Frequency (per 10,000 words)
1xuânspring43436,773.428
2tếtTết16013,557.024
3nămyear15012,709.710
4vềreturn12810,845.619
5đếncome12310,421.962
6be / be defined as12210,337.231
7tawe / us12110,252.500
8vuihappy1179,913.574
9mùaseason1119,405.186
10nhàHome1048,812.066
Table 1. 10 most frequently used words in the corpus
RankClustersFrequency
1mùa xuân89
2xuân đến36
2xuân ơi36
4đón xuân33
5xuân về22
7xuân đã21
9xuân mang17
9xuân năm17
11xuân sang13
Table 2. 10 most commonly used two-word clusters with “xuân”

The approaching festive season

The most common cluster of “xuân” is that with “mùa” (season), making “mùa xuân”. Interestingly, although I have observed the use of some other nouns expressing time, like “ngày” (day), “chiều” (afternoon), “đêm” (night) they are not that significant, compared to “mùa xuân”. It is pretty obvious that “xuân” is the name of a season so the combination is not weird. However, another tentative explanation could be the sense of a long, festive period. Tết in Vietnam is not a celebration day but a series of days. Tết is not limited to the first days of the new year but stretches from a few days before that, when people prepare for the new year. For that reason, Tết is depicted as a whole period of time, extending throughout the entire season of spring (hyperbole intended).

“xuân” is also followed by some verbs indicating a sense of approaching, bringing the atmosphere to the songs. The three verbs “đến” (coming), “về” (returning) and “sang” (coming) are commonly used to show the arrival of a new spring. “xuân đến” is most frequently recorded among the three of them. While “xuân đến” and “xuân sang” share some similar connotations, “xuân về” also indicates the approach of the festive atmosphere, but with a more of a coming-back feeling. The word “về” in Vietnamese shows a sense of returning, implying that we have finished the cycle of a year and are ready to start over the process.

Interestingly, these clusters are usually accompanied by the presence of some festive subjects such as the changes in weather or the blooming of flowers. In some songs, like “Sớm nay mùa xuân” (Châu Đăng Khoa), the cluster “xuân đến” is repeatedly sung throughout the lines. Only in the 4 lines illustrated below, the combination is used 7 times (per 48 words), giving out the feeling that the festival is now everywhere in the air, seeing lovely changes in the surrounding things (birds, clouds, flowers, etc.)

Và mùa xuân đến xuân đến xuân đến chim non hồn nhiên ca hát
Và mùa xuân đến xuân đến xuân đến thoáng mây trời xanh bát ngát
Mùa xuân đến thật rồi đào mai nở nụ cười
Hòa cùng sắc xuân nghe bình yên lòng phơi phới

“Sớm nay mùa xuân” (Châu Đăng Khoa)

In the examples below from “Giai điệu mùa xuân” and “Về quê ăn tết”, some surrounding festive subjects include “cành mai” or “mai vàng” (yellow apricot blossom), “điều may” (luck), “đàn chim én” (swallow), “hạt dưa” (roasted watermelon seeds), “bánh mứt” (confectionery), “pháo hoa” (firework). These are commonly found subjects in Vietnamese literature about the spring season. In reality, these subjects are also iconic of Tết holiday, often seen in many households.

Cành mai tươi thắm đón xuân về đây
Lộc xuân cho ta những điều may
Đàn chim én tung bay hòa ca…

“Giai điệu mùa xuân” (Quốc Trụ)

Tết đến xuân về, ấm áp chan hoà
Trẻ em tung tăng cùng khoe áo xinh khắp trên đường làng
Sắc thắm mai vàng, tiếng trống rộn ràng
Hạt dưa bánh mứt cùng xem pháo hoa giao thừa sum vầy.

“Về quê ăn tết” (Ngô Duy Thanh)

“xuân mang” is another common cluster in the corpus. The word “mang” (bringing, carrying) in Vietnamese is normally used to express the company of something. In our contexts, the festive season of spring is accompanied by various things, with positive connotations. This has been shown in the previous examples, even when the verb “mang” is not presented. However, “xuân mang” is followed by more abstract concepts, seen through examples of phrases followed by “xuân mang” include “câu hứa” (promises), “niềm hân hoan” (pleasure), “tin vui” (good news), “niềm vui” (happiness) and “tình yêu” (love).

Xuân mang niềm vui đến
Xuân mang tình yêu tới

“Như hoa mùa xuân” (Châu Đăng Khoa).

The welcoming attitude

As commonly observed in the corpus (36 times), people address “xuân” with the endeavouring word “ơi”, like when they address another person in communication. The messages people send to “xuân” after their addressing term also vary. In the following example from “Sớm nay mùa xuân”, following the addressing term “mùa xuân ơi”, the characters express their wishes for the new year eve – “Xin hãy mang điều may về cho muôn nhà” (Please bring good luck to everyone).

Mùa xuân ơi có nghe chăng lời ta
Xin hãy mang điều may về cho muôn nhà
Về bên nhau chẳng ngại đường xa
Phút giao thừa sắp qua

“Sớm nay mùa xuân” (Châu Đăng Khoa)

At the same time, in the lyrics of “Xuân ơi xuân”, we can observe a different message. Instead of making wishes, the characters describe the activities that they can see in preparing for the new year – “mẹ đang may áo mới” (mother making new clothes), “hát” (singing), “đón giao thừa” (waiting for the new year eve).

Xuân ơi xuân, mẹ đang may áo mới
Hát câu gì chào đón giao thừa
Xuân ơi xuân, nhẹ nhàng em hát
Với bao niềm vui mới đang về

“Xuân ơi xuân” (Thủy Tiên)

It is also noticeable to see the verb “đón” (welcoming) preceding the word “xuân” (33 times). The images going together with the cluster “đón xuân” is also similar to those following “xuân ơi” in the sense that they also refer to either the new year wishes or the activities in preparing for the new year. The following example from “Ước nguyện đầu xuân”, the lyrics indicate the wish to be together forever of the couple – “đời ta có nhau ngày mai”. In the other example from “Giai điệu mùa xuân”, the author describes the atmosphere of nature through the images of “cành mai” (yellow apricot blossom) and “đàn chim én” (swallows).

Đón xuân ước nguyện đêm nay
Đời ta có nhau ngày mai

“Ước nguyện đầu xuân” (Hoàng Trang)

Cành mai tươi thắm đón xuân về đây
Lộc xuân cho ta những điều may
Đàn chim én tung bay hòa ca
Hân hoan đùa vui

“Giai điệu mùa xuân” (Trần Nghiệp Hoàng – Võ Quốc Trụ)

These two combinations of “xuân ơi” and “đón xuân” indicate the positive and awaiting attitude towards the coming of the festive season. As described in the songs, people and things exhibit a warm welcome to the spring, showing their affection for the season and the holiday. Personally speaking, it is evident that Vietnamese people look forward to this time of the year, the time of family reunion, natural beauty and a fresh start for a new journey.

Limitations

This is, perhaps, the blog that has taken the most tremendous amount of my time to complete. The process started with data collection and analysis, followed by many revised versions. I initially wanted to include more observations on the theme of family reunion and the use of “year” with wishes and reflections. However, it is hardly possible to cram a lot of information into this blog of about 1,000 words. The process of writing up this blog has taught me a lot of valuable lessons, especially in data collection and the use of AntConc tools for analysis. I genuinely see that my sharings are primitive both theoretically and methodologically but still, I’m nurturing my interest in this field. Therefore, I’ll welcome all your thoughts, support and sharing in the comment section and via emails. Happy Linguistics!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: