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g the TTheory
y of Linguisstic
y to Music:
An In

ellenic Journa
al of Music,
Education, an
nd Culture
Copyright 2012
Vol. 3 | Artticle 4
ISSN 1792-2

Caitliin MAN NION

State un
niversity of N
New York at Potsdam, N
NY, U.S.A.

St. Lawre
ence University, Canton, NY, U.S.A.

d University, Cambridge
e, MA, U.S.A..

nguage and music are eessential faceets of the hu
uman experieence and, ass such, are
ue in being u
ubiquitous th
hroughout cultures. This paper is a n
new attempt to apply thee theory of
linguistic relativityy, which hold
ds that langu
uage and culture are mu
utually reflective and gen
nerative, to
the relationship between
usic and cultture. Since b
both language and mussic are comm
devicces and ofteen affect on
ne another, this paper compares and contrassts these tw
wo cultural
ucts as well as suggestts implicatio
ons for furth
her exploration of the interface of these two
univeersal social constructs and the human cultu
ures which produced them.
The discussion
enterrtained and the conclusiions drawn in
i this paper may be off particular interest and value to a
specttrum of scho
olars and prractitioners ranging from
m linguists an
nd musicolo
ogists to lang
guage and
musicc educators.
Keyworrds: Sapir-W
Whorf Hypo
othesis, Cultural Theorry, Musical Relativity, Folk Music,

1. LA
All known human culturees exhibit tw
wo common
n practices: language an
nd music (W
which may be
e taken for g
granted in o
one culture are
a entirely
2009). This is significcant manyy concepts w
n another. Fo
or example, among the Piraha tribe in the Brazilian Amazon
n, there are n
no creation
absent in
myths, n
no fixed term
ms for colours, nor are there linguisticc mechanism
ms for counting.

C Vol. 3 | Applying the Theory of Linguistic Relativitty to Music
evertheless, the Piraha have language, and an
n abundance of music in the form
m of songs
(Patel, 2010). The un
niversality off these two ccultural phen
nomena hass led to centuries of specculation as
to the in
hip between
n language and
a music. T
The tradition of interpretting music in
n rhetorical
terms flo
ourished during the Ren
naissance, when the renewed intereest in the artt of rhetoric led to the
publicatiion of an esttimated 2,00
00 books on the subject between 140
00 and 1700
0 many of these
publisheed in edition
ns which num
mbered 250
0 to 1,000 copies (McCrreless, 2007)). In the 18tth century,
ental works were not exclusively interpreted ass auditory pleasantries
they weree wordless
orations which consisted of careefully ordered sequencess of thoughtts (Bonds, 19
991). Parallell studies of
nd linguistics have led m
many acadeemics to won
nder as to the true natu
ure of the reelationship
music an
n the two. In order to beest understan
nd this connection, we m
must first und
derstand thee individual
nicative natu
ure to both laanguage and
d music.
When the hum
man species evolved into
o being, we w
were equipp
ped with several adaptattions which
distinguiish us from other primates and anim
mals: bipedaalism; the lon
ng, opposab
ble thumb; and a vocal
tract, unique to us, w
which enablees us to speaak and sing (Hodges,
1996). Languag
ge is much eeasier than
o define and
d identify as the prin
ncipal form of human ccommunication (Patel, 2
2010), it is
music to
d as the most
importtant human
n invention, although it was neever activelyy invented
her, 2005). As
A the hum
man species differentiateed itself from
m our primaate cousins, language
developed with us. One of thee great evolutionary myysteries is th
he source, o
origin, and purpose
language. What wee do know is this: witho
out languag
ge, no aspect of human society w
would exist.
more, it appeears that lang
guage is som
mething whicch is specificc to the human genome.1
Is there a deeeper, communicative purpose to
o music? Th
his is a question which remains
unresolvved, and is the subject of considerrable debate
e. Steven Pinker claims that musicc is merely
auditoryy cheesecakke, without aany adaptivee function in
n human evo
olution. He aargues that it emerged
by takin
ng advantag
ge of the systems used to create languagee, without serving anyy inherent
nicative need
d itself (Pinkeer, 1997). Ch
harles Darwin
n, however, ssuggested th
hat musical b
may havve developeed in humaans and other animals as part of the compleex pressures of sexual
n, and that m
music served
d as a sort o
of protolangu
uage (Darwin, 2009). Maany contemp
poraries of
Pinker reesponded to
o his contro
oversial dism
missal of music, rising to
o its defencee. Ian Cross, Elizabeth
Tolbert, Nicholas Baannan, and R
Robin Dunbaar are only a few of the academics w
who supportt the belief
n integral ro
ole in the development o
of human cu
ulture, and g
go so far as tto suggest
that mussic played an
that the relationship
p between music
and language is m
more intimatte than may have been previously
d (Mithen, 20
urely, any co
ommunicative role that m
music might play in hum
man socializaation and intteraction is
much more
abstract than the spoken
d if indeed
d it is a lang
guage, then it is an inch
hoate one,
ng to our paathos, first and
foremosst. Music is understood through thee senses, no
ot through

See also
o: Cavalli-Sforrza (1997), Fissher (2005), Taakahashi et al. (2009).

C Vol. 3 | Applying the Theory of Linguistic Relativitty to Music
logic. Ind
deed, the hu
uman brain does not in
nterpret mussic as simple auditory ph
henomena, as
a it might
process random noise and aimleess sound; raather, it is un
nderstood on
o an emotio
onal level (W
1998), in
ndicating thaat music meaans somethin
ng to the human brain.
Is this emotiional response based on some common human
value system, or is our
understaanding of mu
usic and m
musics effectt on us thee result of geenerations off cultural con
If the lattter is the caase, what values and culttural elemen
nts are prese
erved and traansmitted th
hrough the
m of music? P
Perhaps therre is already a preceden
nt to answer these and o
other such q
pothesis of linguistic relativity. In the course of
o the following paperr, we will exxplore the
the hyp
applicatiion of this ttheory to musical
communication in the hope
es of beginning to ansswer these
ns. We will b
begin by co
omparing an
nd contrastin
ng the cultu
ural phenom
mena of lang
guage and
music, b
both on histo
orical and biological leveels, followed by an explo
oration into tthe theory of
o linguistic
relativityy. Our paper will conclu
ude with the application of this hyypothesis to
o musicologyy, drawing
evidencee from various musical practices
in ttraditional cu
ultures. By trracing the orrganic development of
folk music and cultture, we will explore the relationsship between music an
nd languagee, and the
potentiaal for an entirrely new wayy of approacching musicaal communiccation.

2. LA
Beefore any atttempt can b
be made at ccomparing laanguage and music, wee must first u
these tw
wo characterristically hum
man constructs. What iss language? What is mu
usic? Neitheer question
producees simple answers. The d
definitions o
of language and music are
a diverse, ranging from
m the very
specific to the abstrract. Both arre highly com
mplex seque
ences of disccrete structu
ures which unfold over
hich are then
n interpreted
d by the brain as a comm
municative whole
mson, 2009). Aniruddh
time, wh
Patel po
oints out thatt both langu
uage and mu
usic consist o
of similar eleements: rhythm, which h
he classifies
as patterns of timing
g, accents, aand groupin
ng; melody; and syntax, or the princciples which guide the
o of discreete elements. Furthermore, as Patel iinforms us,
construcction of comprehensible sequences out
both havve an affectivve goal (Pate
el, 2010).
In spite of these similaritiees, language and music aare very diffeerent both in
n their preseentation, as
well as in their n
neurological pathways. Most signifficantly, lan
nguage is a referential form of
nication whille music is laargely a-refeerential, characterized by
b a floating
g intentionality (Cross,
2001) that engages individual reesponses and
d interpretations which vvary from listtener to listener.
On a neurolog
gical level, itt has been fo
ound that th
he two hemispheres of tthe brain bo
oth process
sound, but
b each seleects a differe
ent variety of sound com
mbinations. T
The right halff of the brain, directed
and larg
gely responssible for ourr emotions, interprets th
he world in terms of sp
patial relation
nships and
non-verbal communication. He
ere, concord
dant soundss are proceessed. The left half of the brain,
howeverr, which pro
ocesses inpu
ut sequentiallly and is asssociated witth the deveelopment of language,
processees primarily discordant sounds (Ro
obertson, 2004). Althou
ugh each g
governs veryy different
nents of interpretation an
nd cognition
n, it is eviden
nt that we re
equire both halves of ou
ur brain to

C Vol. 3 | Applying the Theory of Linguistic Relativitty to Music
nicate mostt effectively.. Without tthe emotion
nal, musicall right brain, a speakker cannot
understaand nuancess which unde
erlie vocabulary. Paul Ro
obertson pro
ovides an exxample of su
uch a case.
A patien
nt, who had had a largee portion off his right he
emisphere removed,
waas asked the
e question,
How do
o you feel? The patientts response,, literal in meaning and unmusical in tone, was:: With my
hands. Alternativelyy, Robertso
on discusses an individual who, fo
ollowing a massive stro
oke which
ound himselff without thee ability to sp
peak, read, o
or write. In sspite of the
damageed his left hemisphere, fo
loss of his verbal sself, this maan was still able to co
ommunicate through m
music, composing and
piano (Robertson, 2004)). Clearly, in spite of sevveral differences in form
mation and
improvissing at the p
function, language and music are conneccted and intterrelated w
within the human comm
system. While the lo
oss of one ffaculty does not necessaarily affect the
t other, efffective self-expression
often req
quires both.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau cclaimed that language w
was the firstt social instittution,2 with
hout which
none of the later deevelopments of human society could
d ever have occurred.
Without langu
uage, there
would be no creatio
on myths, no trade, no sttories, no em
mpires, no reevolutions, no
o teaching o
or learning,
no queestions or answers. W
Whether spo
oken or sig
gned, langu
uage is the primary mode of
nication and
d interaction between in
ndividuals an
nd societies. It is dynam
mic and reflexive, in a
constantt state of evvolution, so long as a laanguage hass native speaakers (Bonviillain, 2003). There are
differing opinions o
on what a true
on of language is, but it is generaally agreed upon that
language must havee meaning; p
productivity,3 or the ability to remix aand reassem
mble a finite number of
discrete words to fo
orm endless new commu
unication; an
nd displacem
ment, which iis the ability to discuss
things or abstract ideeas that are not present (Grandin, 20
he origin off language is still being discovereed, and rem
mains the so
ource of co
nation and d
debate in sch
holarly circlees. Linguisticss as a sciencce blossomeed in the 19tth century,
h the origin of languag
ges was a taaboo subjecct. The Lingu
uistic Societyy of Paris, founded in
1866, fo
orbade any discussion
of the origin
n of language, a prohibition which ccontinued fo
or nearly a
century (Mithen, 200
06). Today, ttheories abo
ound among
g linguists an
nd anthropologists as to the origin
and purposes of language. Onee postulation asserts thatt the use of ttools triggerred brain devvelopment
d to the neceessary acquisition of lang
guage (Mithen, 2006).
in humans, which led
Haauser, Chom
msky, and Fittch discuss the evolution
n of languag
ge at some length, and they point
out three primary isssues which plague this debate: firstt, the shared
d versus uniique distincction in the
e of communicative systtems in non--human anim
mals; second
d, whether laanguage evo
olution was
gradual or saltation
nal; and, thirrd, whether language eevolved out of extant animal
systems,, or if aspeccts of languaage were exxapted from
m a previouss adaptive p
purpose, a p

Jean-Jaccques Rousseeau, Essay on tthe Origin off Languages which

treats off Melody and
d Musical Imitaation,: 5.
Hauser et al refers to
o this compon
nent as recurssivity. Marc D. Hauser, Noam
m Chomsky, and
a W. Tecum
mseh Fitch,
d It Evolve? Sccience, 298, 55
593 (22 Noveember
The Faculty of Language: What Is It, Who Has it, and How Did
2002): 15

C Vol. 3 | Applying the Theory of Linguistic Relativitty to Music
which th
he authors call the continuity verssus exaptation issue (H
Hauser, Cho
omsky, & Fittch, 2002).
Hauser et
e al. divide the concep
pt of languag
ge into two categories: FLB (the facculty of language in its
broadest sense), which includes a sensory-m
motor system
m and a conceptual-inte
entional systeem, as well
as the m
mechanisms necessary to
o combine a finite set off linguistic co
omponents into an infinite number
of utteraances; and FLN, which includes on
nly this finall quality of recursivity, and is identified as a
uniquelyy human com
mponent of language.

oam Chomssky, a leader in the field of linguisticss, is a champ
pion of the iinnatist perspective for
guage acquisition and tthe theory of the Universal Gramm
mar. Childreen, he arguees, do not
simply leearn a lang
guage by reepeating ling
guistic eleme
ents to whicch they are exposed, ssince adult
language is rife witth false starts, incompllete sentencces, grammaatical flaws and errors. Chomsky
suggestss that all humans are born with an innate predilection for languaage acquisitiion, which
manifestted itself as a template which contaains all the p
principles un
niversal to h
human langu
uages. This
biologicaal construct is called the Universal Grammar, and
is directtly coded intto the humaan genetic
sequencce (Lightbow
wn & Spada, 2006). The ease and naatural tenden
ncy for hum
man children to acquire
language, especiallyy when com
mpared to non-human primates and
other aanimals, sug
ggests that
language is a mech
hanism which
h evolved after humanss diverged from
a comm
mon ancesto
or some 6
million yyears ago (H
Hauser, Cho
omsky, & Fitch, 2002). SSome scientiists perceivee language as
a the byproduct of distinct, hybrid reg
gions of thee brain evolving, such as Brocas area; otherss feel that
language is a moree complex, b
but nevertheeless analog
gous to the communicaation system
ms of other
primatess, whose braains include h
homologouss regions to Brocas
and Wernickes aareas (Gearyy, 2005).
hese two reg
gions, Brocas and Wernickes areas, are both fo
ound on the left hemisph
here of the
brain. Brrocas area w
was discovered in 1861 by
b Pierre Pau
ul Broca duriing an autop
psy of a patie
ent named
ur Leborgnee, nicknamed
d Tan afteer the only syllable witth which hee could resp
pond to a
n. Tan had livved without the ability to
o speak for 2
21 years. During the auto
opsy, Broca found that
a neurossyphilitic lesiion had desttroyed a part of Tans b
brain, now naamed after Broca himseelf. It is this
region o
of the brain tthat is associated with sp
peech (Karpf,, 2006), and,, along with its right hom
mologue, is
specialised to quickly and autom
matically parrse syntax (M
Maess, Koelsch, Gunter, & Friederici, 2001). In
1873 Caarl Wernicke,, a German neuro-psych
hiatrist, mad
de an analog
gous discoveery with the brain of a
man wh
hose facultiees for speecch and hearing were unaffected
by a stroke, but who w
was nearly
incapablle of processsing and un
g anything said
to him.. Wernicke ffound a lesion on the

This is a topic which is still hotly deebated. Much

h research hass been done in the commu
unication systeems of
man animals, in
ncluding a very interesting study analyziing the distresss calls of Gun
nnisons prairie dogs
ed by Con Slo
obodchikoff. T
The result of th
his study whatt that prairie dog
d colonies have communication
systems w
which consist of discrete elements includ
ding nouns, ve
erbs, and adjeectives. Temp
ple Grandin discusses his
research in her book Animals
in Traanslation; for ffurther readinng into this stu
udy, see C. N. Slobodchikofff,
on and Comm
munication in P
Prairie Dogs, The Cognitivve Animal: Em
mpirical and Thheoretical Perrspectives
on Animaal Cognition, Marc Bekoff, C
M. Burghardt, Eds.
E (Cambrid
dge, MA: MIT Press,
Colin Allen, and Gordon M
2002): 25

C Vol. 3 | Applying the Theory of Linguistic Relativitty to Music
brain neear to the au
uditory centre of the brain, thus, leaading him to
o conclude tthat this reg
gion of the
brain waas responsible for processsing speech
h comprehen
nsion (Karpf, 2006).
ere, in the b
brain, the m
most concretee connection
ns between language and music arre present.
Although the two arre evidently not
n complettely linked (as exhibited b
by the preseence of musicality in an
aphasic individual, o
or of languag
ge in a perso
on with amusia), these tw
wo processees certainly share many
gical substraates and paathways. Fo
or instance, Maess et al. establish
hed that Bro
ocas area
processees musical syyntax in addition to lingu
uistic syntax,, implying th
hat the brain understand
ds music as
a relative
e of languag
ge (Maess, K
Koelsch, Guntter, & Friede
erici, 2001). T
The importance of this d
discovery is
strengthened by thee fact that th
he subjects studied were all non-mu
usicians, wh
hich is suggeestive of an
implicit musicality in
n human co
ognition (Jen
nstschke, Koelsch, Sallat,, & Friedericci, 2008). Ad
children who struggle with linguistic syntax face
similar cchallenges w
with understanding musiccal syntax.
bly difficult
What is music? This is a qu
uestion whicch has proved over and over
again to
o be incredib
to satisfaactorily answ
wer. The discovery of trraditional mu
usic, as well as exploratory approacches to art
music th
hroughout human culturre have prod
duced a widee variety of o
opinions as tto what is, aand what is
not, mussic. An oft-ciited examplee of this difficculty is 433 (1952) by John Cage can this piecce, a study
in ambieent sound and musical reticence, be
e considered
d music? Offten music iss broken dow
wn into its
requisitee componen
nts. Hroar Kle
empe cites four
necessaary characteristics of mu
usic: sensualiity, distinct
pitches combined
w rhythmicc structures, the subverssion of clearr meaning, and
a harmonyy (Klempe,
(2009). A
Aniruddh Patel points ou
ut the presence of rhythm, melody, syntax, and affect as keyy elements
of music, which arre notable for having parallels in linguistic eexpression (Patel,
0). Victoria
damental levvel as a colleection of sou
unds producced by the
Williamson describes music at itts most fund
human voice or an
n instrument (Williamso
on, 2009). B
Bruno Nettl, one of thee foremost figures in
usicology, defines musicc as human
n sound com
n outside th
he scope of language
(Mithen, 2006). Finaally, McDerm
mott and Hauser identifyy music on three levels:: as structured sounds
produceed by human
ns either dirrectly or thro
ough instrum
mental proxyy, the sound
ds produced
d are often
made to
o convey em
motions and enjoyment, and often (b
but not alwaays) consist o
of a complex structure
mott & Hauser, 2005).
Ass evidenced by the abovve attempts to define an
nd explain m
music, this is a challengin
ng concept
to pin do
own. For thee purposes o
of this explorration, we wiill propose o
our own definition of mu
usic. First, it
is a stru
uctured entitty balancing some prop
portion of in
ntentional so
ound and intentional sile
ence.5 The
g sound is th
he product o
of a finite nu
umber of discrete elemeents that can be combined into a
potentiaally infinite nu
umber of peermutations, of which thee composer uses a selectt number to satisfy the
aestheticc goals of a piece. Furth
hermore, thee produced ssound uses both elemen
nts of rhythm
m, melody,

The incllusion of inten

ntional silencee is of particullar importance, as composed art music aas well as folkk music
often dep
pends largely on the balancing powers o
of negative sp
pace provided
d by rests or silence.
In the case of
John Cag
ges 433, the composition
n is entirely o
of negative sp
pace, and the projections off self which th
he audience
then prod

C Vol. 3 | Applying the Theory of Linguistic Relativitty to Music
and harrmony in proportions w
which vary from culturre to culturre6. The purpose of m
music is to
nicate some concept orr ideal for which spoken
n language is inadequate, even if th
his may be
reduced to simply providing pleasure.
here are othe
er questions to considerr: at what po
oint or pointss in human h
history did m
music begin
to emerrge; where d
does it come from, from
m an evoluttionary stand
dpoint; and what purpo
ose does it
serve? T
These questio
ons have beeen receiving
g an increasing amount of attention
n over the past several
years, and the prop
posed theories and hyp
potheses havve been met with an un
nsurprising amount
nd of the co
ontinuum, Steven
Pinkeer dismisses music as auditory ch
debate. On one en
g that it arosse by taking advantage of structural processes used in lang
guage produ
uction, but
serving no other eevolutionaryy purpose (Pinker,
97). Such aan opinion is supporteed by the
uman functio
ons and activvities such ass eating, sleeeping, talking
g, and sex,
observattion that unlike other hu
music prroduction yieelds no obvious benefits (McDermottt & Hauser, 2005).
here is evidence both for and againsst Pinkers m
music as cheeesecake theeory. In many respects,
music appears malaadaptive to early Hom
mo sapiens. M
Musical pracctice requirees a large aamount of
energy, and would potentially attract pred
dators or en
nemies while
e simply pro
oviding ente
006) a gen
nerally useleess developm
ment for a sspecies whicch was still eking
out an
n existence
Fitch, 20
against all the oddss in a harsh environmen
nt, battling starvation, th
he elements, and predattors. While
nd language support Pin
nker, there is evidence provided by
the shared mechanissms of musical ability an
current research thaat music do
oes not rely exclusively on structurres dedicated to languaage. These
e structures h
have been d
d by aphasicc patients wh
ho have mussical skills lefft intact, or
converseely, in indivviduals with amusia who
o are able to commun
nicate throu
ugh spoken language,
proving that languaage and mu
usic are at least partiallyy independe
ent (Fedorenko, Patel, C
Winawer, & Gibson, 2009).
Music has beeen suggested
d to be a biological adaaptation whicch functions in a variety of arenas.
It may b
be associated
d with courtship and sexxual selection (McDermo
ott & Hauser, 2005), or with social
n (Hodges, 1
1996) within
n cooperative
e groups such as religio
ous networkss, prehistoricc tribes, or
warriors.7 Lullabies, which are eextremely co
ommon (McD
Dermott & H
Hauser, 2005), aid considerably in
bond, and w
would play a large role in language acquisition
n for babiess. Children
the motther-infant b
attain lin
nguistic facullties by interracting with tthis commun
nicative syste
em howevver, not all cu
ultures use
the mottherese speeak so comm
mon in North
h American h
homes. Among the Kaluli and Inuit peoples, for
examplee, adults do n
not converse
e with young
g children (Lightbown, & Spada, 2006). As a resu
ult, children
would first be expossed to their mother tongue through
h lullabies, w
which would train the inffant ear to

gh melody and harmonic eelements are m
most importan
nt in the Westtern music as a whole, McD
and Hausser point out tthat these eleements are of much less sig
gnificance in o
other world m
musics. In theirr place,
rhythm iss the primary method of musical expresssion. (McDerm
mott and Hauser, The Orig
gins of Music: Innateness,
Uniqueneess, and Evolu
ution,: 32.)
See also
o: Cross (2001
1), Huron (200
01), Merker (2

C Vol. 3 | Applying the Theory of Linguistic Relativitty to Music
the prossody of their language. A
As children in
n such culturres begin to babble and talk, they wo
ould begin
to interaact with otheer siblings an
nd peers, only entering tthe social and linguistic rrealm of adu
ults as they
reached maturity.
A number of theories and
d hypothesees have been
n put forwarrd regarding
g musical devvelopment
in the human
speccies, particu
ularly with rregard to itts relationsh
hip to langu
uage. Charles Darwin
postulateed that, before the onseet of either music or lan
nguage in th
heir modern
n incarnation
ns, humans
nicated via a system wh
hich exhibite
ed characterristics of botth. From this primitive system,
suggesteed, music an
nd language emerged ass separate en
Steven Brown
n, a musicolo
ogist, made
e a similar p
proposal in 2
2000, namin
ng this protolanguage
nguage (Bro
own, 2001). According tto Brown, m
musilanguagee exhibited tthe shared ffeatures of
language and musicc, including p
phrase units and formations, as welll as functional purposes on both a
ogical level and a meaaningful one
e. Musilanguage, Brow
wn suggests,, evolved o
out of the
vocalizattions of prrimates whiich he nam
mes referential emotivve vocalizattion, or R
REV; these
vocalizattions were ccalls, not son
ngs, which co
ommunicated emotive re
esponses to environmen
ntal stimuli,
and are exemplified by the alarm
m call system
m of the Africcan vervet m
monkey (Brow
wn, 2001).
Steven Mithen
n proposed another
del for the d
developmentt of language and musicc, which he
called H
Hmmmmm communicaation, an accronym for a communication systeem that wass: Holistic,
manipulative, multi--modal, musical, and m
mimetic in ccharacter (M
Mithen, 2006). Again, tthis model
proposees a sort off musical prrotolanguage from which capacitiees for both language and
Instrumental m
music, as an
n element off human culture, is estim
mated to bee at least 36
6,000 years
old, duee to the discovery of anccient bone fflutes; howevver, it is likelly that instru
umental mussic is much
older than this po
ossibly 4,000
0 years oldeer. The existtence of con
ntemporary instrumentss, primarily
percussion instrume
ents, which are made o
out of perishable materrials, suggessts that their primitive
nvironment, easily destro
oyed by the elements orr unable to
ancestorrs were similarly susceptive to the en
withstand the ensuin
ng millennia (Fitch, 2006)). There is tantalizing speeculation thaat music instrumental
music is even oldeer than this: an
a artifact su
upposed to be a Neandeerthal flute w
which was raadiocarbon
o 43,100 7
700 years old was disco
overed in Slovenia in 1997. The prresence of ttwo clearly
dated to
ed holes led its discoverrers to concclude that th
he artifact, m
made out off a bears bo
one, was a
flute. The instrumentt was damag
ged by a carrnivores chewing at som
me point, how
wever, which
h may have
been th
he cause off three othe
er holes on the objectt; this damaage has ressulted in co
scepticissm on the fu
unction of th
he object. In
n the case tthat this item
m was used for musical purposes,
howeverr, it would ssuggest thatt music was utilized eveen before h
humans or N
Neanderthalss had fully
developed spoken language (FFitch, 2006), as well as evolutionary divergencce between these two

Charles Darwin, The descent of m

man and selecttion in relationn to sex. (Lond
don, UK: John
n Murray). Cite
ed in W.
A comp
parative persp
pective, 198
Tecumseh Fitch, The biology and eevolution of music:
See also
o: Livingstonee (1973), Marleer (2000), Merker (2001), M
Merker (2002),, Richman (19

C Vol. 3 | Applying the Theory of Linguistic Relativitty to Music
hominid species, supporting
tthe notion that musicc and language evolvved out of a protonicative systeem that wass founded upon the hom
mologous elements whicch form the backbone
of these two unique modes of expression.
Peeter Fletcherr sums up th
he relationship between these two essentially human characteristics by
stating: Language is seen as a cognitive mode, its caapacity deep
p in the min
nd, while music is not
essentially cognitivee, and exten
nds beyond mind, beyo
ond the bod
dy (Fletcher, 2001). Alth
hough the
origins o
of language and music remain larg
gely theoretiical at this juncture, it is clear that there is a
connectiion between
n the two. Th
he likelihood
d that both of these faculties are functionally re
elated, and
may havve developed out of a ccommon anccestor is stro
ongly supported both byy characterisstics of the
two systems and shaared pathwaays in the brain. A numb
ber of studies suggest th
hat, although
h language
uced indepeendently of o
one another, the syntactic structures of both are processed
and mussic are produ
togetherr (Fedorenkko, et al., 2009). The ccorrelation b
between the
e two open
ns the posssibility that
language and musicc may be o
of similar vallue in underrstanding th
he worldview
w and experrience of a

3. LIN
In the middlee of the 20
0th century, a number of linguistss observed a unique reelationship
n language and
a culture. Linguistic aanthropologyy in Americaan scholarsh
hip was part of a four
fields approach, where anthro
opology as a whole was approacheed holistically as a discipline, it
udy of the physical (o
or biologicaal), linguisticc (or philological), cultural, and
incorporrated a stu
archaeological recorrds. The stud
dy of languag
ge itself was championed by Franz B
Boas (1858-1
1942), who
g the American field of anthropologyy (Duranti, 19
997). Boas w
was among
is largelyy credited with founding
the first to recognisse the uniqu
ue role lang
guage played
d in indigen
nous cultures. As an educator, he
his students to develop g
grammars an
nd dictionariies of traditio
onal languag
ges based on
n culturally
trained h
significant texts (Mith
hun, 2004).
Haaving studieed the Eskim
mos and Kwaakiutl Indianss, two Nativve American tribes locatted on the
est Coast, Bo
oas came to conclude th
hat it was no
ot only of theeoretical inteerest, but praactical and
necessarry to study a cultures laanguage. W
Without an understanding
g of the ling
guistic expre
ession of a
people, one would have an inco
omplete kno
owledge of tthe culture in which the language was
w spoken
(Duranti,, 1997). Diffferent langu
uages, he fo
ound, would
d classify an
nd explain the world an
nd human
nce in culturrally unique ways, a disscovery that has been u
used to bolsster the arg
gument for
cultural relativism, w
which states tthat cultures ought to bee understood
d on its own
n terms, as o
opposed to
being reelated to foreeign culturess (Duranti, 19
997). These ccontributions would be perpetuated
d by one of
Boass students, EEdward Sap
pir (1884-19
939), whose
e further research
ould have profound
ramificattions upon the field of lin
nguistic anth

C Vol. 3 | Applying the Theory of Linguistic Relativitty to Music
Saapir and his student, Ben
njamin Lee Whorf
7-1941), werre largely ressponsible fo
or the early
development of ling
guistic anthro
opology in th
he early 20th
h century, fo
ocusing much of their stu
udy on the
languages and culttures of Naative Americcan tribes (Bonvillain, 2
2003). Theirr research led to the
on of what is known to
oday as the linguistic reelativity princciple.10 Sapirr claimed th
hat human
nce was meediated through both laanguage and culture: o
only items, events, and forces of
cultural significance would be labelled.
Comparatively,, once labelled, the identified elem
ment would
become culturally sig
gnificant (Bo
onvillain, 200
03). As such, language and culture were
mutuallyy reflective
and mu
utually generative, existiing in a peerpetual statte of give-aand-take beetween the two, each
mediated by the forcce of the oth
Laanguages cu
ultural specifficity is illustrrated by Tho
omas Widlok, who pointed out the erroneous
approacch to the languages off hunter-gattherer tribess in the Afriican bush. T
The languag
ges of the
various Bushmen w
were reduced
d into one leexicon, an acct which Wid
dlok claims implicitly colllapsed the
pe and its peeople (Widlo
ok, 2008). G
George Orweell also noted
d the incrediible power w
words have
over thee thoughts of the speaker: in Nin
neteen Eigh
hty-Four, Neewspeak nott only took away the
linguisticc tools to disssent, but alsso the cognittive seeds off individualityy.
Laanguage and
d culture are in a con
nstant state of ebb-and
d-flow. Culture, both th
he human
manifesttation, as weell as the naatural enviro
onment in w
which a language is spo
oken, affects language.
ge use, in turrn, clues in the human m
mind to impo
ortant elements, influencing culture, and so on.
It is well-known thatt the human brain devellops a sort of
o filter on sttimuli we ccan tune ou
ut sounds,
or visuals wh
hich appear tto be unimp
portant, freeiing up our consciousnes
ss to focus o
on relevant
smells, o
stimuli. SSimilarly, thee linguistic co
omponent to
o our interaction with th
he world aro
ound us is seelective for
elements of importaance. The inccreased impo
ortance of vvarious facetss of a culture
e may be exxpressed in
often with th
he most important facttor being deescribed with a greater variety of
a varietyy of ways, o
d terms.
What happenss when music replaces laanguage in this
t model? How do culttural norms and values
gravitatee toward mu
usical expresssion, and h
how is musicc moulded and
modelleed after the aesthetics
and beliefs of a peo
ople? Do scales and cadeences vary from
one culture to the next, in acco
ordance to
w do the intteractions beetween musiician and insstrument, thee relationship between
inherentt values? How
makers, or reestrictions on
o who mayy or may no
ot participatte in musicaal expression
n reflect a
society? The relation
nship betwee
en music and psyche off the people who produce it would most likely
be clearest in traditional culture, and less so
o in the art music
of socciety. This inccludes the art music of
the Wesstern Classical tradition, as well as the
t art musicc of what are commonly referred tto as folk
cultures.. Art music, music which
h is produced
d for aesthettic pleasure and entertainment, is present in a
variety of
o cultures across the globe. As a genre, it has a tendency to be much
h more self-aware and


Also reeferred to as tthe Sapir-Who

orf hypothesiss, although the accuracy off this term hass been contessted.

C Vol. 3 | Applying the Theory of Linguistic Relativitty to Music
refined than
music iintended forr communication. For th
his reason, w
we will focuss our discusssion in this
paper aw
way from artt music.

4. SIN
Musical practiice, especially in traditio
onal cultures, has the p
power to en
ncapsulate tthe values,
n to the bou
undaries of
beliefs, aand social sttructures which characteerise a people. Music givves definition
thought and values to the culture which has produced it. These cultures mightt be nationall or ethnic,
d on the shared experien
nce of gendeer, work, or any
a other co
ommon identity shared
at other times based
by peop
ple. The Hung
garian comp
poser and sccholar Bla B
Bartk (1881-1945) firmlyy believed th
hat musical
on was relatted to the lo
ocation in w
which it was produced ((Ramnarine, 2003). Even
n the most
cursory of glimpses into musicaal traditions ffrom around
d the world reveals that the perform
mance and
function of music in everyday lifee is rich with meaning, both
implicit and explicit.
Offten, music m
mimics the p
patterns and
d rhythms off the local laanguage. In his lecture The Music
of Langu
uage and th
he Languagee of Music, Aniruddh Paatel spoke o
of the relativve lengths off vowels in
spoken French and English, and their paraallels in Fren
nch and Eng
glish music. English lang
guage and
music was characterrized by greaater contrastt in adjacent vowels or note values, while
French was much
more evvenly spaced
d out.11 The implicationss between m
music and lan
nguage an
nd linguistic relativity
reach far beyond thiis.
Obviously, one of the most immediately observab
ble links in th
he relationsh
hip between the SapirWhorf hypothesis
nd musical relativity
uld be in thee analysis of song texts, as the topiccal material
of songss is often ind
dicative of th
he value of vvarious them
mes in a cultu
ures life. Wh
hile some concepts are
more un
niversal than
n others, as w
with love so
ongs or lameents, others are more cu
ulture-speciffic. Musical
relativityy, however, extends
far beyond son
ng. Musical ttextures and preferred ttonalities, for example,
are uniq
que to variou
us cultures aand regions. The pentattonic scale aand three-paart polyphon
nic singing
are ancieent musical approaches,, and are widely used in
n the folk mu
usic of south
hern Albanians, Epirote
Greeks, and western
n Macedonians, among others
(Rice, 2000).
Peerformance practice also
o indicates ccultural valuees and experiences. Alan
n Lomax hyp
that specific song strructures werre indicative of social fun
nctions within
n a society. According
o him, solo
song waas expected to be found
d in centralized societies,, and culturees with a sim
mpler politicaal structure
would h
have an abu
undance of leaderless p
performances; and coheesive societiees would haave unified
choirs, w
while the music in culturees which em
mphasized the individual would have diffuse choiirs (Lomax,
1968). This particular perspective has been ccriticized forr being overly simplistic, reducing th
he complex


These ffindings were later replicated with a much larger sam

mpling of French and Englissh music in 20
003 by
David Hu
uron and Joy O

C Vol. 3 | Applying the Theory of Linguistic Relativitty to Music
nature o
of a societyy to a minim
mal rubric. Neverthelesss, Lomaxs suggestions are indicattive of the
potentiaal relationship
p between eensemble structures and various social norms.
Although this field is yett young, there are alreeady tantalizzing glimmeers of reseaarch which
the wayys in which a people cho
oose to or aare able to
indicatess that music is culturallyy relative that
express themselves tthrough son
ng, dance, an
nd instrumental music are reflective of the envirronment in
which th
hey were creeated. Similaarly, the notion that musical expresssion can in tturn affect itts creators
has begun to receivve more atteention. Issuees of genderr roles, age, social struccture and strratification,
phy, lifestyless and professions, and n
natural resou
urces are all expressed th
hrough the m
medium of

5. AN
he purpose o
of our paper has been tto lay the foundations fo
or further ressearch into the
t unique
relationsship between
n music and
d culture. Through the course of this paper, we have endeaavoured to
illustratee not only the connection between music
and language, butt the joint co
onnection off these two
universaal social consstructs and tthe human ccultures whicch produced
d them. We have seen h
how music,
like lang
guage, has th
he ability to reflect cultu
ural norms and
a values, w
which bringss one to thee inevitable
n: so what?
What does th
his all mean?? Is Steven P
Pinker right is music just auditoryy cheesecakke without
which th
he human sp
pecies would
d be virtuallyy unchanged
d? As is often the case, the
t answer is both yes
and no. Yes, music is a constru
uct which is not essentiaal to the survival of thee human speecies we
would b
be able to gather and h
hunt for food
d, find sheltter, and procreate witho
out it, much like other
species inhabiting
out planet. Ho
owever, thesse functions would likelyy be able to be carried o
out without
the benefit of langu
uage, and itt is likely that the earlieest ancestorrs of human
ns did exactly that. As

beings, though, we woulld be radically different w

without musiic.
human b
Laanguage and
d music are essentially h
human, and research is beginning tto suggest tthat one, if
not both
h, of these ffunctions haas a biologiccal preceden
nt. The two, however, manifest
themselves in
culturallyy distinct waays, with pro
osodies and
d lexicons, grammars an
nd syntaxes, which vary from one
group of people to the
t next.
We take pridee in our abiility to know
w things we
w are, afterr all, Homo sapiens, thee knowing
man. A
An understan
nding of mu
usicality, whille essential tto many of the nuances to spoken
n language
which m
make human
n cultures po
ossible, allow
ws us to reaach into a d
deeper, morre emotionaal realm of
ourselvees. Musical expression is beyond tthe explicit descriptionss of self, and is groun
nded in a
subconscious understanding. Music, much liike languagee, is one of tthose essenttial componeents of our

C Vol. 3 | Applying the Theory of Linguistic Relativitty to Music
here is a neeed to understand who we are as individuals, as memberss of a culture, and as
memberrs of this diveerse and com
mplex speciees. And yet, tragically, th
he rich and m
multifarious ttradition of
music which permeaates human cultures thro
oughout the world is graavely endang
gered. With the loss of
ous languages and tradiitional musiccal styles, thee cultures asssociated witth them are dying out
as well, cchoked out of
o existence by an encro
oaching push
h for homogeneity.
or social, p
political, relig
gious, or eeconomic reeasons, popular and commercial music is
supplantting the song
gs which havve accompaanied peoplee of the world since timee immemoriaal. Children
are learn
ning languag
ges of trade and mainstream societyy, vestiges of
o the havoc wreaked byy European
colonial powers in p
previous cen
nturies. As a result, children are not only unablee to commun
nicate with
older ge
enerations of their familyy, they are u
unable to un
nderstand th
he unique mindset
assocciated with
nal languagees. Ancient knowledge and wisdom are ceasing to be passeed along, eleegant song
ns and musiccal lore are faading away, and all that once was is being slowlyy forgotten.
oughly everyy two weeks, one lonelyy light of con
nsciousness, the last speeaker of an indigenous
language, is extinguished. With tthat voice, aan entire wayy of life vanisshes. Over th
he course off just a few
decadess, the numbeer of languaages spoken
n in our worrld has drop
pped precipitously acccording to
some fig
gures, from 6,000 to less than 3,000
0 (Davis, 200
03). Once a language iss no longer spoken by
native sp
peakers it diies, and with
h it an entiree culture, wo
orldview, and
d way of life
e silently passses out of
e. If the imp
plied connecctions between languagee and musicc are consideered, then itt is safe to
e that the saame fate thre
eatens endaangered mussic. The truth
h of disappearing music cannot be
denied, whether it iis part of a larger ethniic culture, or
o part of a smaller subculture, such
h as those
ed with occu
ed Gioia writtes of the Gaan people in Burkina Fasso in 1996,, a sole surviiving membe
er of these
people w
was found to
o perform u
upon the sheepherds sidee-blown bam
mboo flute. This perform
mance was
d the next yyear, this trad
among the
t last of its kind, and w
was luckily recorded
he died
dition died
with him
m, for neith
her the instrrument nor the lifestyle it accompanied were
e passed o
on to later
generations (Gioia, 2006). This is increasin
ngly the casse only the older ge
enerations kknow their
nal songs, daances, instru
uments, and stories. Thee loss of these marks the loss of a way of life
and a peerspective with which to comprehend, interact w
with, and con
ntribute to th
he world.
g the relation
nship between music and culture is more cruciall now than eever before
researchers can co
ome to undeerstand where a people had been, w
where they aare now, and
d what the
future m
may hold for them. Not o
only does this provide insight into an
n individual cculture, this kknowledge
providess clues as to
o our own h
humanity, as we are all connected tthrough evo
olution to a ttime when
early maan was scraping out a meagre exisstence in a world which
h only remo
otely resemb
bles that in
which we live today,, before we had spread out of Africaa to becomee the dominant animal o
on our tiny

C Vol. 3 | Applying the Theory of Linguistic Relativitty to Music
It is a matter o
of course thaat civilization
ns and cultures rise and fall, and thaat a culture which
he changing
g world will vvery likely peerish. It is unreasonablee to expect
not adapt to the inffluence of th
human cultures remain aand do not cchange through time. In an age wheere we are seeking out
that all h
our iden
ntity, howeveer, it is usefu
ul to understtand the soccial and cultu
ural foundations for the worldview
of our global neighb
bours. Furthe
ermore, in an attempt to
o better com
mprehend th
he values, peerspectives,
gins of our own
culturess, it is worthw
while to kno
ow our own histories. Th
he influence of various
and orig
cultures on present--day societies is present tthroughout the globe.
We must strivve to undersstand the many manifesstations of h
human culture and, perh
haps more
ntly, take steeps to preseerve them ffor future ge
enerations tto experiencce. Certainly,, to forget
these so
ongs and traaditions is to
o lose a con
nsiderable am
mount of ou
ur humanness. When we
e begin to
explore what it truly means to
o be a humaan being, in
n a world where
gence can b
be created
artificiallyy and wheree craft is increasingly mecchanized, it is all the mo
ore imperativve that we ho
old on to a
dge of where
e we once w
were. It is posssible that w
what distinguishes us from
m other livin
ng things is
not neceessarily enco
oded within o
our DNA, an
nd it is not w
what we havee accomplish
hed to date, but rather
how we reached this point and where we in
ntend to go. Studying th
he linguistic and musical traditions
of conteemporaneous and historiical cultures sheds light u
upon the forrmer part of this question; what we
do with this knowled
dge determin
nes the latter.

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C Vol. 3 | Applying the Theory of Linguistic Relativitty to Music
State University o
of New York at Potsdam, NY, U.S.A.
Caitlin Mannion is completin
ng her undergraduate sttudies in Mu
usical Studiees as well ass in French
and FFrench Educaation at the State Univerrsity of New York at Potssdam.
ST. Laawrence University, Cantton, NY, U.S..A.
Elviraa Sanatullovaa-Allison is Chair of thee Education Departmen
nt at St. Law
wrence Univversity. She
holdss a B.A. in French and Foreign Laanguage Edu
ucation, an M.A. in Mo
odern Langu
uages and
Literaatures, and a Ph.D. (Un
niversity of Nebraska att Lincoln) in
n Administraation, Curriculum, and
Harvaard Universitty, Cambridg
ge, MA, U.S.A
Marat Sanatullovv is Precepto
or and Courrse Head in the Departm
ment of Rom
mance Languages and
Literaatures in thee Faculty of Arts and SSciences at H
Harvard Uniiversity. He holds a B.A
A. in Music
ormance and
d Music Edu
ucation, a Licence
and a Matrise in Lettres M
Modernes, aan M.A. in
Modeern Languag
ges and Literratures, and a Ph.D. (Un
niversity of Nebraska
at Lincoln) in EEducational