Tonal Languages and Music ::
The article entitled Tone (linguistics) has some interesting things to say about the relationship between pitch in language and pitch in music.
Speakers of non-tonal languages (such as English) often perceive tonality in musical terms, based on notes, when in fact it is based on tone contour. Tonal languages are relatively pitched, and not absolutely pitched. A listener interprets the tone of a syllable not based on the "note" in which it is "sung", but rather based on how the tonal contour of the syllable varies with respect to the base intonation of the utterance as a whole.
Because many speakers of non-tonal languages confuse musical tone with tone contour, it may be assumed (incorrectly) that a tonal language is incompatible with singing. If the word 'love', for example, must be pronounced as a B flat, how could one write a song that uses both the word 'love' and a corresponding note different from B flat?
While English is not a tonal language, it does incorporate tone. The canonical example is generally one that demonstrates the use of tone to confer the speaker's emotion or attitudes ("The blackboard's painted ORANGE?!" -- shock and surprise), but there is another, more subtle example that is worth considering, especially in the context of music: stress. English, like most Indo-European languages, is stress-based. The nature of stress varies between languages, but in the case of English, it could be thought of as variations in speech volume, vowel length, and most importantly, tonal contour, that serve to distinguish a particular syllable in a word as being the one that is "stressed". English is particularly interesting because it has phonemic stress: a change in a stress point can change the meaning of a word (record (noun) and record (verb) being a simple example). Careful attention to the pronunciation of such words and how they differ from each other will illustrate that a difference in intonational contour over the word is not a small part of what makes the words different. In this sense, English speakers have been incorporating tone as an aid in distinguishing certain pairs of words all their lives without knowing it.
This is important because no English speaker would ever suggest that "stress is dropped or ignored by English speaking singers to make their language compatible with music". It is, however, very common to hear this same assertion with regard to say, Mandarin pop music. As any speaker of Mandarin will tell you, the idea of Mandarin "with tones dropped" is as non-sensical as English "with stress dropped."
Just as English poets make use of meter to ensure that their poetry fits a particular rhythm, Chinese musicians choose lyrics that "fit" with the tune of the music. Sometimes (as is the case in Beijing opera), the intonation of individual syllables is exaggerated a great deal and music is composed to follow the intonation rather than the other way around, but this is rarely the case in popular music.
African languages are tonal languages leading to a close connection between music and language in many African cultures. In singing, the tonal pattern or the text puts some constraints on the melodic patterns. On the other hand, in instrumental music a native speaker of a language can often perceive a text or texts in the music. This effect also forms the basis of drum languages (talking drums) This very idea justfies the old adage "music can express what words cannot." This only furthers my theory that we are all based upon rhythm. We are all vibrations and vibrations make up pitch which makes up harmony
Futher proof as to how language effects musical pitch perception:
Bless this revelous moment in my life
1 Comments On This Entry
- Miss_C. on OMFG I knew it!!!!!
- Miss_C. on No pun intended
- Miss_C. on physical setback
- Miss_C. on Meditations on my 29th.
- Miss_C. on gunshots
- Miss_C. on emotional channeling
- Miss_C. on I'd have fucked it up if it weren't for SF
- Miss_C. on that one
- Miss_C. on What a brilliant time
- jazzyteach64 on I'd have fucked it up if it weren't for SF