Sunday, November 18, 2012

Music And Language

Here at The Lingua File we love music, and we also love language, obviously. Music and language are more closely linked than you may first think. We're about to tell you how:


All spoken language is made up of sounds. We're vibrating air and causing areas of compression and decompression. Music is exactly the same thing. Compression and decompression of air.

The Ear

If both language and music are sounds, then the ear is the principal organ for being aware of either language or music. Of course, language isn't limited to sounds and the ear. Sign language works entirely with gestures and visuals, and writing works without any sound.

The Brain

With music and language both being sounds that are processed by the ear, then they must share some processes in the brain. Not only are they both processed by our ears and their corresponding neurons, they also are stored using common systems. The brain stores the underlying rules of both music and language, melodies and semantics, in the same system using the temporal lobes. The arbitrary information, however, is stored in independent systems for each.

Even though it uses the alphabet it goes from C to C...

A Written System

Both language and music feature systems in order to represent themselves visually. Languages have writing systems such as alphabets, abjads, abugidas, and logographic or syllabic systems. Music has sheet music, complete with staves, notation, key signatures, tempo, directions and anything else you might need in order to play the piece (instruments and/or orchestra not included).

The Words

Everything in the world is related to language in some way. We require a lexicon in order to name things, such as objects and abstract concepts. You'll find in music that most of these are Italian. Why? Put simply, Italians love music.

Here are twelve (the number of semitones in an octave) of our favourite musical terms and their origins:

A Capella: The meaning has altered slightly, but the idea of there being a group of people without instrument remains. From Italian for "in the style of the church/chapel".
Bass: From the Italian Basso, meaning low.
Cadenza: A solo part, usually improvised and ornamental. From Italian for "cadence".
Diminuendo: Getting quieter. It's the Italian word for "decreasing".
Encore: To be played again. From the French (for a change) word for "more" or "again".
Flat: Half a tone lower and finally an English word.
Geschwind: From German meaning "quickly".
Ma non troppo: This is perhaps the vaguest instruction ever, from the Italian for "but not too much". Use when asking for ice cream. (Though honestly, can one ever have too much ice cream?)
Presto: Very quickly. From Italian.
Quasi: From Latin and Italian for "almost".
Tutti: Italian for "all". When put with "frutti" you have a good bit of ice cream.
Wolno: From Polish, to be played loose or slowly.

You've just learnt the most important phrase
in Italian: "Tutti frutti, ma non troppo."