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Re: "Old Starrish"

From:Fredrik Ekman <ekman@...>
Date:Tuesday, February 11, 2003, 23:00
On Mon, 10 Feb 2003, Rachel Klippenstein wrote:

> The speakers of this language are essentially human phisically and > mentally, very similar to us, though it is possible that they all have > perfect pitch, unlike us.
Since pitch is not a phonemic quality of your language, absolute pitch is not necessary although it would be a great asset. A race of humanoids with absolute pitch is certainly a possibility, even though I take the liberty to doubt your information about the Vietnamese "absolute pitch" report. (I do not doubt that you read it, but I doubt that it was correctly reported.) Absolute pitch is not something that can be learned. Some have it, others do not. So absolute pitch in an entire population would require mutation and take a very long time.
> I toyed around with the idea of a relative scale, and decided that the > problem with it would be that different vowel sequences that represented > the same intervals could then correspond to exactly the same tone > sequences, if the speakers decided to start them on the same note.
What you would have to do with a relative scale is to somehow establish the keytone, perhaps in a first vowel that is always the same.
> Maybe you could help me with one thing: I don't know specifically which > intervals are awkward, and I don't know how one would look it up. > Also, what is a tritone? (Oh, probably an interval of three whole > tones, right?)
Yes, that is correct. The tritone is also known as the diminished fifth, the augmented fourth or, less formally, as the Devil's interval. The tritone is the one you will always have to watch out for. The reason is that the wavelengths of the two tones are in a rather complex mathematical relation to one another. For some real fun, try to find two tuning forks that are at tritone interval, strike them and put one against each ear. (The tritone of a piano does not sound all that bad because the piano has a rich array of overtones.) Other intervals to watch out for are intervals close to the octave, in particular the major seventh. However, if those intervals are inverted (the major seventh upwards becomes the minor second downwards, for instance) they are not difficult at all, provided that they stay in key. (Such inversion does not change the tritone.) In fact, from a melodic point of view you have made it very difficult for yourself by choosing the twelve-tone chromatic scale of contemporary music. That scale has been developed over thousands of years to work well in a harmonic context, but it is very difficult to form beautiful melodies from it without knowing a good deal of music theory. It is much easier to start with a simpler scale, such as a common seven-tone major scale, which is in fact the foundation on which the chromatic scale is built. Or perhaps even better, a five-tone pentatonic scale, which is common in folk music and many non-western cultures. If you want to know what a pentatonic scale sounds like, find a piano and play only on the black keys. It is very difficult to make a completely unmelodic combination in a pentatonic scale. Take the tritone, for instance. In a chromatic scale there is one possible tritone for each of the tones, for a total of twelve "dangerous" intervals. In a seven-tone scale this has been reduced to three, and in the pentatonic scale there is only one. You can have a pentatonic scale and still have a large vowel inventory if you choose to regard the octaves as unique. Then you must only watch out so that you avoid overuse of intervals larger than the octave (plus the tritone). In fact, the one tritone of a pentatonic scale could be used for dramatic effect on rare occasions. Or why not invent your very own scale, which is not based on the same mathematical relations as the ones in "normal" music? That would require a lot of work, but it would be a lot of fun, too. Plus, it would certainly give your language a VERY alien feel. For inspiration, you may want to look at the Indonesian slendro scale (about which I unfortunately know next to nothing). /Fredrik


Rachel Klippenstein <estel_telcontar@...>