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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000035.txt from 2000/09

From: stewart kiritz <>
Subj: Re: [kl] Language vs. music (was Phrasing With the Harmony)
Date: Sat, 2 Sep 2000 19:52:32 -0400

Hi Bill,

Alas, I have not read "Descartes' Error" But I am reading an excellent book
about the mind called "Consciousness Explained," which deals with, I
believe, some of the same issues.

<<Are music and language so completely divorced from one another that they
cannot be discussed as two tracks that share some ideas in common (see
below) and then diverge from each other? Is it productive or counter
productive to ask: "Music is an interesting topic, and so is
language, but they aren't related to each other. Which topic would you like
to discuss today?">>

Bill, I think they are very divorced from one another but it is certainly
interesting to compare and contrast them. It can also be interesting and
productive to study them as separate systems, how they evolved, what
functions they serve, etc

<< Is it because music is built from an entirely different part of our
cognition? Or is it more useful to notice that chord progressions and keys
and 'the tonic' and chords are (perhaps?) a version of grammar and syntax
and vocabulary that is built from smaller units. Do these constructions
spring from completely different neural structures than 'language
constructions' do?

These are all interesting questions and I think ones to which we currently
have few answers.

<<Whoah, caution is recommended here! Certainly language comes closer to
being non-ambiguous and universal than music does. But neither medium is
context-free, nor does either medium have exactly the same meaning for any
two people. Just think about the unintentional misunderstandings that arise
here on the Internet.>>

Context is certainly important in spoken language, and one can always argue
that "nothing means exactly the same thing" to everyone. But there is a way
in which we can assess linguistic utterances that is entirely different from
how we assess musical phrases. Saying, for example, that a (linguistic)
statement is true or false bears only a vaguely metaphorical relationship to
saying that a musical phrase is true or false. We are operating in very
different realms here, while there may be some parallels

<<Are you saying that most people of Spanish birth speak Spanish? Or do you
mean only that most current Spanish citizens speak Spanish? Or do you mean
that if I'm a Spaniard at heart, regardless of my birthplace or current
citizenship, then most likely I speak Spanish? If you and I had opposing
views about what it takes to be a 'real
Spaniard', we could derive completely different meanings from the sentence

Yes, "Most Spaniards speak Spanish" could also mean "Beware, the invasion
will take place on the Southern Coast." Yes, sentences can be used in
different ways and have more than one meaning. But they do have a range of
likely agreed upon meanings and once the context is known the ambiguity
decreases markedly, while with music we enter the realm of subjective
emotional response. What is intriguing here also is that, as I said, there
seem to be some shared responses, at least in a portion of the population.

<<Once again, I agree that language is less ambiguous than music.>>


<<"Spanish" does not mean "artichoke" by any stretch of the imagination. But
the fact that language and music have different levels of ambiguity does not
necessarily mean that they spring from different roots. It may be that they
occupy different positions on, or have taken different
branches of, the same tree of evolution>>

This is a very intriguing hypothesis!


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