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Subject: Relationship between language and music/poetry
Question: I am interested in the relationship between language and music and
language and poetry. In The Music of Africa, Joseph Nketia says
that African societies are so conscious of the relationship between
music and language that they extend its use to instrumental forms.
Meaningful language texts or nonsense syllables are used as
verbal ''scores'' of musical rhythms or as mnemonics for teaching
and memorizing drum rhythms. There are instrumental pieces
based on some kind of textual framework, as well as others that
originate as songs, The linguistic factors that operate in vocal
music therefore apply to some extent to text bound instrumental
music as well. One can assume that irregular stress placement
and additive rhythms exploited in instrumental music are developed
from the treatment of speech rhythms in vocal music.

As well as discussing the relationship between African music and
African tonal languages, Nketia also quotes the Hungarian
composer Zoltan Kodaly as saying that because Hungarian differs
in stress and natural intonation from many European languages, it
follows that music composed to Hungarian words, provided it
conforms to the natural pitch of the language, almost defies
transposition into European languages. As natural as iambic verse
is to English and to some extent even German, French and Italian,
so diametrically opposed is it to the character of the Hungarian

Apart from the specific examples quoted above, has much other
work been done in this area. Is there any academic department
specialising in it and can anyone suggest any more general
studies, please?

Reply: Hi Richard

There's a few folks working on poetry from a phonological perspective, e.g. Bruce
Hayes, Paul Kiparsky are major figures in this literature. There are a number of other
folks, myself included, also working in this area.

As far as the connection between language and music, there's the classical
Jackendoff and Lerdahl book, and the classic lectures by Leonard Bernstein on this
topic. I'm intrigued by this as well, but I'm not sure how much has been done on this
on the linguistic side over the years since.

You mention the use of nonsense syllables in music and I've been looking at these
as well. There's a tradition in English "skat", but this is of unknown origin. I've been
looking at "mouth music" in Scottish Gaelic (puirt à beul). I don't know of any
systematic work on these systems from the linguistic side though.

mike hammond

Reply From: Mike Hammond      click here to access email
Date: 29-Oct-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Relationship between language and music/poetry    Madalena Cruz-Ferreira     (29-Oct-2012)

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