• TheMadFool
    4k
    Everybody loves music. It's one of few human talents that gets mentioned on any list of human achievements. People consider it a distinguishing feature of the human species. Of course birds sing and that's where I want to lead this discussion to.

    I consider myself a below-average music fan as I prefer the melody more than the lyrics. Most people who have truly appreciate music like the combination of melody and lyrics.

    Music is pleasant to hear and different pieces (songs or instrumentals) elicit different moods. Music has this ability. I can even go so far as to say that if the music/song is of the right kind people may even "enjoy" getting murdered.

    Anyway, language as spoken has no musical quality as such. Excitement or surprise may result in an increase in volume and a high pitch. Depressed people speak in subdued tones, etc. These however aren't usually counted as music/song.

    My question is, if music can connect with our inner selves and with others in terms of emotion, etc, why hasn't language evolved into singing or is language in the process of becoming a song?

    In some ways all the music that exist and how people derive meaning from them suggests that language is transforming into a song just like with birds where the song is the language.

    Comments...
  • Possibility
    599
    A few thoughts:

    Language is a means to express and share subjective experience. Words, music, visual art and movement can all do this among humans. Birds are missing only words.

    The extraordinary ease with which music can connect with our inner selves reminds us that there is often more to our experience and to meaning than words alone can express. Sound in general, as vibration, gives us scope to interact with both mind and body simultaneously, where words often distinguish the mind from the world.

    Having said that, poetry is language with musical quality, and has the ability to connect with our inner selves and with others in terms of emotion, etc.
  • Galuchat
    667
    The OP conflates language, speech, aesthetics, and non-verbal communication.
  • tim wood
    3.2k
    Try The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, Nietzsche. Or slave songs of the antebellum American South, or various folk musics. Or religious or cultural ceremonies. The musical soundtracks of movies. Poetry. Even the every-day language of individuals communicating with each other. Much is music; much meaning in the music. Mostly, though, we don't think of it as such and dismiss it even before considering it. .
  • Bitter Crank
    8.4k
    Language and music are intertwined. Of course, a lot of language is "un-musical" just as some music is "unmusical". Otomotopaeia is the use of words to create a "sound" or musical effect -- like Poe's Bells. And how can you listen to the lyrics if there are no lyrics? You like Beethoven's 5th? No words.

    `
  • Noble Dust
    3.3k
    Of course birds sing and that's where I want to lead this discussion to.TheMadFool

    "Birdsong" is a metaphor for how we find the utterances of birds to have some analog to the music we make as humans. They don't "sing" in a literal sense. But of course, birdsong can be sublimely beautiful; I used to be a birder myself and used to own birds.

    I consider myself a below-average music fan as I prefer the melody more than the lyrics. Most people who have truly appreciate music like the combination of melody and lyrics.TheMadFool

    As a multi-instrumentalist songwriter, I also prefer music over lyrics. I may be in the minority there, but I know plenty of other fellow musicians who don't have much energy for lyrics...maybe not songwriters, but musicians, yes. There's plenty of instrumental music...and there are plenty of music fans who prefer it.

    Anyway, language as spoken has no musical quality as such.TheMadFool

    I disagree. I work in a retail environment involving a "rewards program", accessed via phone number, and I accidentally (and embarrassingly very easily) memorize people's numbers based on the exact same cadence of voice, every time, that they use to recite their number to me in order for me to input their number into the rewards program. As a musician, it's easy for me to memorize information based on cadence, and this applies to spoken language and not just music. So, what I'm saying is that the statement that spoken language has no musical quality is, at it's best, debatable. Or, again, at the least, an argument would be in order from you.

    My question is, if music can connect with our inner selves and with others in terms of emotion, etc, why hasn't language evolved into singing or is language in the process of becoming a song?TheMadFool

    I could just as easily ask "If language can connect with our inner selves and with others in terms of emotion, etc, why hasn't music evolved into pure language, or is music in the process of becoming pure language?" Which, if you're keeping up with the pulse of contemporary art music, is not far from the truth.....
  • TheMadFool
    4k
    :up:

    So, what I'm saying is that the statement that spoken language has no musical quality is, at it's best, debatable. Or, again, at the least, an argument would be in order from you.Noble Dust

    You're right. I just wanted to draw a line between spoken language and music as clearly as possible.

    Spoken language isn't really music for the simple reason that no one buys recorded speeches or ordinary conversations for their musical value. However there's a possibility of an unknown determinator we may be unaware of or perhaps what is frankly music and what is language fall on a spectrum of what is music.


    I could just as easily ask "If language can connect with our inner selves and with others in terms of emotion, etc, why hasn't music evolved into pure language, or is music in the process of becoming pure language?" Which, if you're keeping up with the pulse of contemporary art music, is not far from the truth.....Noble Dust

    Music isn't in the process of becoming a language because for that to work we need musical talent which isn't universal. However, language can be spoken even by the worst singer on earth.
  • Noble Dust
    3.3k
    Spoken language isn't really music for the simple reason that no one buys recorded speeches or ordinary conversations for their musical value. However there's a possibility of an unknown determinator we may be unaware of or perhaps what is frankly music and what is language fall on a spectrum of what is music.TheMadFool

    Doesn't poetry, or rap, span the gap and blur the line? I mean, to your credit, clearly spoken language (like for instance if you and I were having this conversation in person) would not be particularly musical. So spoken language as such, to me, remains a neutral. But as soon as cadence is introduced, or rhythm...essentially, it's possible for language to acquire a musical quality in a non musical setting. I guess as a musician I find that significant, but maybe not so much for others. But it does bring up an annoying question of "when" music "begins". And no, no one buys recorded speeches for their musical quality, but spoken word is, in fact, a sub genre of various musical genres. So, spoken word can function musically, even when not functioning poetically in a strict sense. I guess I'm splitting hairs here.

    However, language can be spoken even by the worst singer on earth.TheMadFool

    So what evidence can you supply that the worst singer on earth will learn to sing in order to follow the evolutionary development of language becoming music? Using your argument, how will the NON-musically inclined learn to use music as language? This whole idea in particular seems particularly nonsensical to me.
  • Possibility
    599
    You're right. I just wanted to draw a line between spoken language and music as clearly as possible.

    Spoken language isn't really music for the simple reason that no one buys recorded speeches or ordinary conversations for their musical value. However there's a possibility of an unknown determinator we may be unaware of or perhaps what is frankly music and what is language fall on a spectrum of what is music.
    TheMadFool

    That’s the thing about value structures: there is no clear objective line you can draw between music and language as concepts. The fact that you’re saying it ‘isn’t really music’ should point out the subjectivity of these structures of relations - like saying turquoise is ‘not really blue’.

    I still think a spectrum is too simplified a structure to depict the ‘musical value’ of an expression of sound, though - don’t you?

    For me, musical value describes the degree of logical/mathematical structure or patterns in how each quality of sound in an expression relates to each other: pitch, timbre, rhythm, volume, etc. So a poem is considered musical relative to prose, and someone’s voice might have a musical quality to it that stands out for the listener in relation to voices they normally hear.

    There are recordings of spoken language, though, whose particular ‘musical’ qualities identify them for me even without hearing them in their entirety: the ‘I have a dream’ of MLK, JFK’s ‘we choose to go to the moon’, or even the expression ‘oh, the humanity!’ of the Hindenburg disaster, to name a few. The ability of even these snippets of sound to evoke memory or emotion, set tone or elicit mood suggests that what we’re talking about here are complex relations of experience, rather than ‘music’ as such.

    So when you talk about ‘language transforming into a song’, what I think you may be referring to (and please correct me if I’m wrong) is the repetition or growing familiarity of patterns and structure in language (and even obscure sounds) producing a kind of ‘shorthand’ to meaning. I think this certainly occurs between family members, in mass media and even to some extent within cultural groups. I recall attending church for the first time after years of absence, and falling easily into the pattern of responses - the familiar drone of recitations like a musical performance - before realising that I no longer believed what I was saying...
  • TheMadFool
    4k
    I agree with what you've said but just because there's no clear dividing line between music and language doesn't mean they're the same too. Right? I can't quite put my finger on it but music is more about emotion and language is more about information and what you do with it. However, as you said, they overlap and it seems I was actually referring to that and how we could develop it further - upgrade it in a manner of speaking.

    Thanks.
  • TheMadFool
    4k
    You're right. Brain fart. Ignore that.

    Being a musician can you tell me the differences and similarities between music and language?

    I'll tell you what I think:

    Music is about harmony between sounds. A musical note, A for example, by itself isn't music but if followed by other notes in a particular order we get music. As far as I know notes are particular frequencies.

    Language is definitely sound but it's not the frequencies of the sounds that matter. It's something else. The closest concept I can find is phonetics. In English for example the sound "K" is distinguishable at any frequency of the musical scale. That's how songs work right? So, unlike music, language isn't about frequencies but phonetics.
  • Artemis
    1.4k


    The origins of language may be musical, but now they are distinct categories. Very strictly speaking, lyrical music is a hybrid art form of poetry and music. (So, really, by preferring non-lyrical music, you're less "below-average" and actually more of a purist :wink: )

    Of course, the human voice can still be used as an instrument, and even if it is simultaneously saying words, it's still creating notes and melodies. Jazz artists sometimes try to be more obvious about the human voice as an instrument when they scat for example.

    One of the main differences between language and music is that music is entirely abstract and language purely representational (or "meaningful" in the sense that words are supposed to convey knowledge/information). They are, in that sense, the most opposite artforms we have, though they are aesthetically often similar.
  • TheMadFool
    4k
    The OP conflates language, speech, aesthetics, and non-verbal communication.Galuchat

    There must be a reason for this conflation.
  • Possibility
    599
    Right - they’re not the same but they do overlap in areas. However, it seems to me like you’re saying the best thing language can do is aspire to be more musical. I disagree with this, although I do think our use of language can aspire to be more like music - but in its own way.

    Everything is about information and how it relates to other information - even music. I would say that music enhances our awareness, connection and collaboration in a way that we often think is more ‘emotional’ only because the information acquired cannot be reduced to language - and ‘emotion’ is how we tend to describe the gap.

    But I think that language can be used to increase awareness, connection and collaboration more effectively and efficiently when we recognise firstly that this is what the aim is, and secondly that it has particular strengths and limitations as a set of value/significance structures in achieving this, just as music does.

    Music often defers to language to provide more specific conceptual information about subjective experiences. Language often defers to music to provide more fundamental, intuitive or somatic connections to an experience. But this is usually because we don’t always notice how we feel in response to words. We often assume that language is only about thoughts or ideas, that it should be rational or logical, and involve only the head or brain. People who use language mainly for rational or scientific communication tend to automatically dismiss or ignore how language can make them or others feel - even as they are feeling it.

    I work in marketing communications and PR - part of my job is to edit or structure communications so that emotion is not so much eliminated but accounted for. It’s a common error in written or spoken communications to ignore the emotional effect of word choice, sentence structure and sequential order. We can communicate the exact same information using words in a way that is either benign or that evokes anger, confusion or enthusiasm.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.4k
    As Nat King Cole said,

    When my sugar walks down the street
    All the little birdies go tweet, tweet, tweet
  • Noble Dust
    3.3k
    Being a musician can you tell me the differences and similarities between music and language?TheMadFool

    I think I gave a few above. Generally, language conveys meaning, and music can maybe suggest some meaning (at best), but then things get hairy because language (body language, etc) can also suggest, and some music beats you over the head.

    Music is about harmony between sounds. A musical note, A for example, by itself isn't music but if followed by other notes in a particular order we get music. As far as I know notes are particular frequencies.TheMadFool

    I don't wanna split hairs, but I consider drone music to be music. So, if you sit on A for 12 minutes...and you make it sound nice...it's music. Maybe music is about an emotional response to sound? Maybe.

    In English for example the sound "K" is distinguishable at any frequency of the musical scale. That's how songs work rightTheMadFool

    If I can get metaphorical, then no. Musical keys, for instance, possess their own "personalities". The classic example is that D major is "bright" and "intense", whereas D flat major (one half step down, so one "step" in the western scale down) is considered "lush" and "beautiful". Tones seem to depend on their scale location in terms of how they're experienced by listeners.
  • TheMadFool
    4k




    :up:

    Question: Is music just a pattern of notes? It seems to be the case because it doesn't matter which frequencies form the basis of the piece so long as the intervals between notes are carefully crafted.

    Am I mistaken?

    If not then each particular sound (phoentics) in language may be spoken at any frequency or note and it becomes possible to speak musically.

    Another point to note is energy efficiency. Generating and maintaining a particular frequency/note takes more energy. Also a component of music is the length of a tone and that too, if it's a long note, requires a lot of energy.

    Using just phonetics (A, B, C, etc.) we can create new words withing a small range of frequencies/notes. Energy efficient and information dense?
  • Noble Dust
    3.3k
    Question: Is music just a pattern of notes? It seems to be the case because it doesn't matter which frequencies form the basis of the piece so long as the intervals between notes are carefully crafted.TheMadFool

    I don't get what you mean. A single frequency forms the basis of a musical note, and then tons of other frequencies are built on it instantly based on a lot of factors (the harmonic series; the resonance of the instrument, the resonance of the room, frequency masking and it's result etc). Maybe you meant notes, not frequencies? If so I still don't get what you mean if you meant that "It doesn't matter which [notes] form the basis of the piece as long as the intervals between notes are carefully crafted". Why would it not matter? The difference in tone between D major and D flat major, for instance, is pretty huge, aesthetically. I'm probably missing your point here. But I also don't understand what "isn't music just a pattern of notes" means, either. As if reducing something like music to the mechanical workings of it, to mere acoustics, can define or explain music. So no, reducing music to it's mechanical acoustic properties doesn't create a canvas for building "speech music". I mean I guess you could just sing whatever you have to say?...
  • TheMadFool
    4k
    I don't get what you mean. A single frequency forms the basis of a musical note, and then tons of other frequencies are built on it instantly based on a lot of factors (the harmonic series; the resonance of the instrument, the resonance of the room, frequency masking and it's result etc). Maybe you meant notes, not frequencies? If so I still don't get what you mean if you meant that "It doesn't matter which [notes] form the basis of the piece as long as the intervals between notes are carefully crafted". Why would it not matter? The difference in tone between D major and D flat major, for instance, is pretty huge, aesthetically. I'm probably missing your point here. But I also don't understand what "isn't music just a pattern of notes" means, either. As if reducing something like music to the mechanical workings of it, to mere acoustics, can define or explain music. So no, reducing music to it's mechanical acoustic properties doesn't create a canvas for building "speech music". I mean I guess you could just sing whatever you have to say?...Noble Dust

    I think I'm talking about octaves. A song in A major can be sung at an octave higher/lower. I mean both a man, with a deeper voice and a woman with a high-pitched voice can sing the same song right? We would recognize a song we like whether a man/woman/child sings it. Actually I think I'm correct about what I said. It doesn't matter which note you choose the music is recognizable as long as you maintain the intervals and timings of the notes.
  • aporiap
    171
    Everybody loves music. It's one of few human talents that gets mentioned on any list of human achievements. People consider it a distinguishing feature of the human species. Of course birds sing and that's where I want to lead this discussion to.

    I consider myself a below-average music fan as I prefer the melody more than the lyrics. Most people who have truly appreciate music like the combination of melody and lyrics.

    Music is pleasant to hear and different pieces (songs or instrumentals) elicit different moods. Music has this ability. I can even go so far as to say that if the music/song is of the right kind people may even "enjoy" getting murdered.

    Anyway, language as spoken has no musical quality as such. Excitement or surprise may result in an increase in volume and a high pitch. Depressed people speak in subdued tones, etc. These however aren't usually counted as music/song.

    My question is, if music can connect with our inner selves and with others in terms of emotion, etc, why hasn't language evolved into singing or is language in the process of becoming a song?

    In some ways all the music that exist and how people derive meaning from them suggests that language is transforming into a song just like with birds where the song is the language.
    TheMadFool
    Music has less precision than words, making it less useful for communicating certain kinds of information, eg. factual knowledge. Maybe that's why we have both capacities as opposed to one or the other, since neither really put us at an evolutionary disadvantage whereas both have their own particular advantages.
  • bongo fury
    130
    Actually I think I'm correct about what I said. It doesn't matter which note you choose the music is recognizable as long as you maintain the intervals and timings of the notes.TheMadFool

    Yes, along with all manner of analog features, not always preserved from one performance to the next, a melody contains a "core" pattern of relative pitch and duration, which is digital in the sense of being reliably identifiable (equate-able) across instances. Some instances higher than others, some faster than others.

    Note that relative pitch is a log scale of frequency, turning ratios into arithmetic differences. Otherwise you will get confused, trying to do the kinds of comparison you are suggesting, which are difficult but worthwhile (and fun).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tone_%28linguistics%29?wprov=sfla1

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitch_%28music%29?wprov=sfla1
  • TheMadFool
    4k
    Music has less precision than wordsaporiap

    How so?

    Yes, along with all manner of analog features, not always preserved from one performance to the next, a melody contains a "core" pattern of relative pitch and duration, which is digital in the sense of being reliably identifiable (equate-able) across instances. Some instances higher than others, some faster than others.

    Note that relative pitch is a log scale of frequency, turning ratios into arithmetic differences. Otherwise you will get confused, trying to do the kinds of comparison you are suggesting, which are difficult but worthwhile (and fun).
    bongo fury

    :up:

    What, in your opinion, is the difficulty with using music as a language? Everyone can appreciate music and so a musical language isn't impossible is it? Perhaps music as a language would require a level of proficiency that either only a few possess or requires an amount of practice that is just too much compared to the usual and easier process of language acquisition.

    It could be that language is already musical - there is such a thing as intonation in speech. Do you think this is sufficient to qualify language as musical?
  • bongo fury
    130
    What, in your opinion, is the difficulty with using music as a language?TheMadFool

    I just meant comparing or defining them at all is a challenge. (Fool's errand!)

    It could be that language is already musical - there is such a thing as intonation in speech. Do you think this is sufficient to qualify language as musical?TheMadFool

    Yes, exactly... to say nothing of rhythm, tone, dynamics etc.

    I think a few people here have emphasised the proportion of overlap of the two circles.

    Some have noted the obvious distinction when it comes to semantic function (if there are no words). But, how to understand that very distinction? (Here, of course.)

    Perhaps music as a language would require a level of proficiency that either only a few possess or requires an amount of practice that is just too much compared to the usual and easier process of language acquisition.TheMadFool

    Rap?? But of course you meant wordless... except that you envision (I take it) conventions of musical meaning... i.e. words, roughly speaking.
  • aporiap
    171
    How so?TheMadFool

    I think it has to do with how the meaning is encoded. In traditional language, a word's referent is a particular concept; even in the Wittgensteinian sense, within a given language game, the word has some specific precise referent. In music, the individual tones do not have concrete referents. Instead meaning is conveyed directly through pitch, loudness, timbre, duration. The meaning, in terms of emotional significance, is captured by directly relating the loudness, pitch, to one's emotion. It would be hard to imagine dividing a song into concrete melodic elements that mean concrete things. You instead listen to a longer stretch of melodies and then you connect it to vague descriptives of emotion, adjectives. The emotions conveyed could or could not be relevant to whatever conceptual story you have in your mind or it could be related to the lyrical parts of the song that go on to determine the conceptual meaning of the strings of tone.

    Ultimately I think emotion and concepts are very distinct and so are communicated best in different ways, hence why you can communicate emotion with music and concepts with language.

    You could counter by arguing we can attach concrete referents to particular sounds in a similar way we do with words in a traditional language; but I would argue then what you are using is not music anymore; it would then be a language. In fact that is what we do with a traditional language.
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