The Phenomena of Music and Language: Aspects of Systematic Typological Comparison (Preliminary Theses)


The phrase “musical language” is used so widely in contemporary musicological discourse that many authors and readers persist in the illusory belief that music is one of the varieties of language. Seemingly, Boris Asafyev’s famous dictum (“both verbal and musical types of voicing are different branches of the same acoustic flow,” 1925) tends to reinforce this illusion, which has also given rise to “musical semiotics” as an entire research area. The present essay explores why such ideas are misguided, but examines how this illusion is supported by verifiable observations and sound reasoning. From the viewpoint of mammals’ bioacoustics, it suggests that the human’s zoned ear is a fundamental biological premise for the emergence of both language and music as typologically similar systems of voiced structured temporal acoustic utterances. From the viewpoint of semiotics, the typological difference between language and music as systems of semiotized and desemiotized acoustic utterances is respectively asserted; in addition, the relevance of differentiating music from music culture, which is functionally analogous to differentiating language from language culture, is specially noted. From the viewpoint of dialectics, both language and music are considered the hyper-unity of opposite entities. The research methodology is fundamentally based on Karl Popper’s posited opposition between verifiable and falsifiable scientific concepts (1935) — an opposition which is also considered dialectically.


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