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Re: Music-conlangs & music

From:Eldin Raigmore <eldin_raigmore@...>
Date:Monday, July 3, 2006, 22:41
I like this thread a lot.
What I have to say in this post is not specifically a reply to any
particular previous post.  I'll have to do _that_ part later.

Music is supposed to have four major characteristics to each sound; pitch,
volume, duration, and timbre.

Timbre is essentially what distiguishes one phoneme from another, or at
least one "phone" from another; at any rate it is what distinguishes one
vowel from another.

But there is more to timbre than that; timbre is also part of what
distinguishes one person's voice from another's.

For each of these four qualities, there are some natlangs which use them to
make phonemic and lexemic differences.

Tonal languages have "lexical tone".  Can one sing in these languages?  The
answer is quite evidently "yes".  How, and why, can one sing in these
languages?  I think the question is worth a good answer.

Do the words, in some respect and to some degree, determine the pitches at
which they can be sung?

In many languages the length of time devoted to a particular vowel can make
a different vowel out of it.  In fewer, but still many, languages, the same
can be said of consonants.  The "Raritatenkabinett" (or is it "rariteiten-
"?) contains, IIRC, a language with a three-way distinction by length in
each category, both consonants and vowels.  How is it possible, in such
languages, to set words to a rhythmic tune?  But it is.  Is it possible in
such a language for a singer to pay attention to such dynamic markings
as "accelerando"?  Mightn't that change the meaning of the lyrics?

Do the syllables, in some respect and to some degree, determine the
duration of the notes on at which they can be sung?  (English lyrics would
seem to indicate the answer is probably "yes, somewhat".)

Finally there are languages -- English among them -- in which the volume at
which a syllable is pronounced can change the meaning of the words.

English is not the best example, because length, pitch, and volume all go
together to make up "stress" in English.  But try to imagine two words, the
noun "RECord" and the verb "reCORD", pronounced in a monotone and with
exactly equal length of both syllables.  It would still be possible to
distinguish, because the accented syllable would be louder than the
unaccented; it would be harder to distinguish, because we are used to the
accented syllable being at a higher pitch and longer duration than the

There are languages which have similar minimal pairs in which pitch is not
part of the distinction, or in which duration is not part of the
distinction, although volume remains part of the distinction.  Aren't there
some natlangs in which volume is _all_ there is to the distinction?  In
such a language, how is it possible to pay attention to dynamics such
as "forte", "piano", "crescendo", "decrescendo", without messing up the
meaning of the lyrics?

Do the lyrics, to some degree and in some way, partly determine the
dynamics of the tune to which they are sung?  (English-language pop songs
would seem to make the answer at least partly "yes".)


Other posts relevant to this thread have included discussion of conlangs
that consist _entirely_ of pitch and duration.

Could "music" in Solresol consist of changing the _timbre_ at which
the "words" are pronounced?

In other words, could a song in Solresol have its "lyrics" be the sequence
of pitches and their durations, while its "music" consisted of the sequence
of phonological segments to be pronounced at those pitches and for those
durations?  (And of course the volumes at which they are pronounced would
also be part of the "music".)