Lost in musical translation: A cross-cultural study of musical grammar and its relation to affective expression in two musical idioms between Chennai and Geneva

In Florian Cova & Sébastien Réhault (eds.), Advances in Experimental Philosophy of Aesthetics. London: Bloomsbury Academic (2018)
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Can music be considered a language of the emotions? The most common view today is that this is nothing but a Romantic cliché. Mainstream philosophy seems to view the claim that 'Music is the language of the emotions' as a slogan that was once vaguely defended by Rousseau, Goethe, or Kant, but that cannot be understood literally when one takes into consideration last century’s theories of language, such as Chomsky's on syntax or Tarski's on semantics (Scruton 1997: ch. 7, see also Davies 2003: ch. 8, and Kania 2012). In this chapter, I will show why this common view is unwarranted, and thus go against nowadays philosophical mainstream by defending what I call the musicalanguage hypothesis. In Section 1, I will introduce the musicalanguage hypothesis and present, based on empirical evidence, some of the many similarities between language and music and explain why we should take them seriously. I will introduce a framework that aims to explain the communicative power of music using what we already know about linguistic communication (1.1). I will then outline several working hypotheses about musical grammar, musical meaning, and affective meaning (1.2), and thus defend that music is indeed very close to literally be a language of the emotions. In Section 2, I will detail some of the methodology, expectations, and preliminary results of a cross-cultural study on musical grammar that I am presently conducting between South India (Chennai) and Switzerland (Geneva and Lausanne)4. This empirical study focuses on two musical idioms and their grammatical features: Western classical music of the Common Period (ca. 1600-1900) and South Indian classical music (also know as Carnatic music). The main hypothesis of this study is that you need to master the grammar of a musical idiom in order to properly understand its musical meanings.



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Constant Bonard
University of Bern

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References found in this work

On referring.Peter F. Strawson - 1950 - Mind 59 (235):320-344.
The Aesthetics of Music.Roger Scruton - 1997 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
A Generative Theory of Tonal Music.Fred Lerdahl & Ray Jackendoff - 1987 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 46 (1):94-98.
Themes in the philosophy of music.Stephen Davies - 2003 - New York: Oxford University Press.

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