Language, music and notation
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The problem I seek to resolve in this chapter stems from a puzzle about the distinction, and the relation, between speech and song. Those of us, like myself, brought up in the Western ‘classical’ tradition are inclined to contrast these uses of the voice along the axis of a distinction between language and music. When we listen to music, whether vocal or instrumental, it is surely to the sound itself that we attend. And if we were to ask after the meaning of this sound, the answer could only be in terms of the feeling it evokes in us. As musical sound permeates the awareness of listeners, it gives shape or form to their very perception of the world. But most of us, I think, are convinced that when we listen to speech it is quite otherwise. The meanings of spoken words, we say, are to be found neither in their sounds nor in the effects that they have on us. They are rather supposed to lie behind the sounds. Thus the attention of listeners is not drawn to the sounds of speech in themselves but rather to the meanings conveyed by them and which they serve, in a sense, to deliver. It seems that, in listening to speech, our awareness penetrates through the sound to reach a world of verbal meaning beyond. And by the same
token, that world is absolutely silent – as silent, indeed, as are the pages of a book. In short, whereas sound is of the essence of music, language is mute.