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Language, Music, and the BrainA Mysterious Relationship$
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Michael A. Arbib

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780262018104

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262018104.001.0001

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Musical Syntax and Its Relation to Linguistic Syntax

Musical Syntax and Its Relation to Linguistic Syntax

(p.257) 10 Musical Syntax and Its Relation to Linguistic Syntax
Language, Music, and the Brain

Fred Lerdahl

The MIT Press

Music is meaningful, but there is no musical counterpart to the lexicon or semantics of language, nor are there analogs of parts of speech or syntactic phrases. This chapter seeks to establish a notion of musical syntax at a more fundamental level, starting from the view that syntax can be broadly defined as the hierarchical organization of discrete sequential objects which generate a potentially infinite set of combinations from a relatively small number of elements and principles (thereby extending not only to linguistic syntax in the usual sense but also to a syntax of phonology). The elementary musical objects in this approach are perceived pitches, chords, and rhythms. Sequences of musical events receive three types of structure: groupings, grids, and trees. Using a Beatles song as illustration, the formation of successive structural levels is described and issues of sequential ordering, the status of global structural levels, contour, and the question of psychological musical universals are discussed. The strongest correspondences between music and language appear to be between musical syntax and linguistic phonology, not musical syntax and linguistic syntax. Published in the Strungmann Forum Reports Series.

Keywords:   musical syntax, linguistic syntax, meaning, linguistic phonology, musical universals

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