The universal grammar of music
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The Universal Grammar of Music. by Kristen Gattian Taryn O’Neill Daniel Sternberg. Underlying Arguments. Parallels exist between language and music. Theories of linguistic development and language acquisition can be applied to music.

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The Universal Grammar of Music

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The universal grammar of music

The Universal Grammar of Music

by

Kristen Gattian

Taryn O’Neill

Daniel Sternberg


Underlying arguments

Underlying Arguments

  • Parallels exist between language and music.

  • Theories of linguistic development and language acquisition can be applied to music.

  • Similarly to language, there exist certain cross-cultural universal elements in music.

  • Linguistic choices, based on the universal grammar, are similar to choices made in musical interpretation. Both are usually based on identical cultural values.


Chomsky s linguistic theory

Chomsky’s Linguistic Theory

  • Chomsky proposed a generative theory of linguistics. It’s focus is on how human beings are able to create and organize linguistic expressions.

  • There exists a language organ, a region of the brain, that contains the information necessary to understand and generate linguistic structures.

  • Humans have a genetic predisposition to learn language. Language learning during childhood is part of the body’s preprogrammed pattern of growth.

  • Humans have explicit and highly articulate linguistic knowledge that has no basis in linguistic experience.

  • There is a Universal Grammar from which all aspects of every human language can be derived. The universal grammar is the set of principles that all languages have in common. The principles cover grammar, speech sounds, and meaning. The universal grammar is the inherited genetic endowment that makes it possible for us to speak and learn human languages.


Jackendoff and lerdahl

Jackendoff and Lerdahl

  • Lerdahl and Jackendoff proposed a formal theory of tonal music based on the generative linguistic theory of Chomsky.

  • The primary parallel between the generative theory of linguistics and the generative music theory is the combination of psychological concerns and the formal nature of the theory.

  • There exist musical intuitions, unconscious principles by which the listener experienced in the idiom organizes what he hears beyond surface features (pitch, attack, duration, volume, timbre).

  • The creation of an analytic system capable of expressing what a listener hears, a system of organization of musical events, is based on what the listener already knows intuitively.

  • There exists a system of rules, or a musical grammar, that humans have a genetic predisposition to perceive.

  • The formal organization of the grammar is universal, and the rules are largely universal. All that varies is the specific pitch relations that are mentioned in the rules.


Five universals of music

Five Universals of Music

  • The existence of structures for grouping and phrasing.

  • Organization via metrical structure, beat, or pulse.

  • Pitch matter derived from some range of the overtone series.

  • Form delineated through patterns of tension and relaxation.

  • Functional ties to specific cultural activities, traditions, or values.


Grouping and phrasing

Grouping and Phrasing

  • The method of organizing short passages or melodic segments to form part of a larger unit.

  • This parallels the grammar term “phrase,” which is defined as: “Two or more words in sequence that form a syntactic unit that is less than a complete sentence.” (dictionary.com)


Metrical organization

Metrical Organization

  • The division of time into measured units to create a steady beat or pulse.

  • The organizational function of steady beat parallels the role of syntax rules.

  • Accents that are implied by metrical organization parallel patterns of emphasis in speech.


Pitch and the overtone series

Pitch and the Overtone Series

  • The overtone series refers to the naturally occurring pitches that are produced by the division of a sound wave.

  • The size of the interval between two adjacent pitches is determined by the range of the overtone series used in various cultures.

  • All possible pitches can be extracted from the overtone series. This is similar to Chomsky’s theory that all aspects of language can be extracted from within the mental language organ.


Tension and relaxation

Tension and Relaxation

  • Specific patterns of pitch relationships convey specific meanings. In particular, patterns of organizing pitched and/or rhythmic units convey various degrees of closure.

  • This parallels the patterns of tension and relaxation in language—the use of punctuation (period, comma, semi-colon…) denotes varying degrees of closure.


Cultural function

Cultural Function

  • The stylistic techniques of the previous four universals are reflected in the way that music is used within a specific culture.

    • For example, a specific rhythmic or melodic idea may reflect a specific traditional, religious, or ideological value shared by a community.

  • In language, specific cultural values and norms are identified in the labels assigned to objects and/or actions.

    • For example, Eskimos have twelve different words for “snow” because it is such a pervasive part of their daily lives.


Western tonal music

Western Tonal Music


Hungarian music

Hungarian Music


African tribal music

African Tribal Music


Indian ragas

Indian Ragas


Korean traditional music

Korean Traditional Music


Parallels in cultural linguistic and musical patterns

Parallels in Cultural Linguistic and Musical Patterns

  • Certain melodic or rhythmic features of a specific culture mirror speech patterns found in the same culture.

  • These features come into existence because they are preferred over others by a given society.

  • Oral traditions plays a key role in sustaining and creating a connection between both linguistic and musical preferences.

  • For example, Hungarian and Scottish speech typically consists of words with a short-long syllable pattern.

    • This speech rhythm is often mimicked in the rhythmic pattern:


Theoretical implications

Theoretical Implications

  • Musical constructs exist within the human mind. Humans have a predisposition to organize and analyze music according to certain specific rules

  • The close parallels between language and music that become clear when a generative theory is applied to each imply that methods of language instruction based on linguistic theories other than Chomsky’s generative theory may be validly applied to music education.

  • Spoken language and music are closely related in the human brain. If a child developed in an environment as rich in musical stimuli as our environment is in linguistic stimuli, musical fluency might develop naturally.


Limitations

Limitations

  • While events in language have specific meanings that are not open for interpretation, musical events do not have the same specific meaning. As such, rules for organization and analysis of music are broader and more abstract than those of language.

  • A direct translation of aspects of language (syntax, semantics, phonology, etc.) to music terms is not entirely accurate. Due to the different nature of expression in language and music, each has characteristics that can be organized and analyzed within the context of language or of music, but they will not necessarily be parallel to each other.


The end

TheEnd


Bibliography

Bibliography

  • Brown, H. (2000). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching (4th ed.). New York: Pearson Education.

  • Clark, S. & Rehding, A. (2001). Music Theory and Natural Order. New York: Cambridge University Press.

  • Dictionary.com (2003) Lexico Publishing Group, LLC http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=phrasing

  • Farrell, G. (1997). Indian Music and the West. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  • Howes, F. (1970). Man, Mind, and Music. New York: Books for Libraries Press.

  • Hye-Ku, L. (1981). Essays on Korean Traditional Music. Korea: Seoul Computer Press.

  • Jackendoff, R. & Lerdahl, F. (1980). A Deep Parallel Between Music and Language. Bloomington: Indiana University Linguistics Club.

  • Karolyi, Otto (1998). Traditional African & Oriental Music. England: Penguin Books Ltd.

  • Lee, B. (1997). Styles and Esthetics in Korean Traditional Music. Seoul: National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts.

  • Mahajan, A. (1989). Ragas in Indian Classical Music. India: Gian Publishing House.

  • Nketia,

  • Peterson, P. (1996, April). Do Significant Cultural Universals Exist? American Philosophical Quarterly, v 33. Retrieved October 12, 2003, Available at

  • Raffman, D. (1993) Language, Music, and Mind. Cambridge: The MIT Press.


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