Call for proposals | 4

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Savoirs en Prisme | 4: Language and music
Stéphan Etcharry & Machteld Meulleman

Literature in general and poetry in particular illustrate well how language and music can be linked. If these codes of communication are fundamentally different in terms of their symbolic nature, they share at least an expressive and above all a poetic function. They both possess a strong illocutory and perlocutory force, notably the capacity to arouse emotion solely by the beauty of the form of their « message ». The fact that the mere play on sounds may be the only intention of the act of communication is particularly clear in the case of nonsensical poems and songs in non-existing languages (glossolalia).

The question arises whether and how this musicality sui generis of language can be characterized. Is it somehow possible to define its precise features from a prosodic (rhythm, accentuation, intonation) and structural (echoes, resonances, returns) point of view? Are these characteristics universal or rather language specific? Is there for instance any difference between languages with a word or word-group accent and tonal languages? In any case, the great suggestive power of sounds and words is undeniable (as in the case of onomatopoeia for instance).

This musical potential of language manifests itself even more clearly during the act of performance or acoustic materialization of a text, sometimes called its « oralisation ». Once again the question arises to what extent and how the « musical perception » of the work on the voice is comprehended differently according to the geographical location, culture, era, literary genre considered, etc.

During the process of musico-poetic creation, this inherent « musicality » of language opens up a great number of opportunities, but it also generates some problems. The fruitful and yet delicate encounter of language with music has given rise, especially in the realm of opera, to numerous artistic as well as esthetic and philosophic debates and quarrels, notably the famous controversy « prima la musica, dopo le parole ». Indeed several forms of hybridity and esthetic mixing can be distinguished. A first interesting process is providing an existing text with music. Certain musical genres are based on literary texts, belonging either to the scholar (motet, madrigal, polyphonic song, opera, opéra comique, Lied, melody, melodrama, etc.) or to the popular (song, rap, slam, etc.) spheres. However, what kind of processes are at work exactly when a (literary) text is converted into the « pre-musical » language of an opera libretto  ? The composer has the choice of seeking to conform his own creation at the most to the original text, or conversely to willingly break down the rhythm of the text and its original accentuation. A second common process consists of providing music with a text (e.g. the case of songs written on a jazz standard or on a preexisting melody), but there also exist artistic forms whereby the combining of text and music is carried out by one and the same person. What would be the options to assess the level of success of these attempts of hybrid artistic creation? How well do these co-operations turn out or is it hardly possible in the end to reconcile the work on language and music?

Moreover, this musicality can serve as a mnemotechnic means, in the intergenerational transmission of oral heritage (medieval poetry, oral literature, popular songs, etc.) for instance, or be exploited in language teaching (native and foreign). When a text or a melody is transmitted from one cultural domain or linguistic territory to another, it often undergoes a process of translation or adaptation, wherefore it would be useful to gain insight into its stakes and implications, especially in the case of an originally hybrid musico-poetic creation (opera, Lied, song, etc.). To what extent is it possible and desirable to respect the rhythm and accentuation of the source language and to preserve the word paintings employed by the composer ?

Our journal has a pluri- and interdisciplinary approach, bringing together scholars from a variety of disciplines including musicology, literature, linguistics, philosophy, history, didactics, etc. It calls for an open perspective on different types of artistic creations covering not only belles-lettres but also slam, popular songs, etc. Finally, it seeks refreshing original approaches to these issues and innovative points of view.

Contributions related to any of the following three research axes will be preferred:

Axis 1: Language as music
a)     Intrinsic musicality of a language or text (written in a particular language)
b)    Sonority at the moment of acoustic materialization

Axis 2: Encounters between two media
a)     Setting music to a text
b)    Setting a text to music
c)     Synergy between music and text in the work of a single artist

Axis 3: Transmissions
a)     Mnemotechnics
b)    Translations

 However, proposals only indirectly related to these issues may also be submitted.

Proposals for articles (limited to 15 lines) should indicate the axis (or axes) to which they are related and be accompanied by a short biographical note mentioning institutional affiliation and email address. They are to be sent to the following address before June 20th, 2014: savoirsenprisme@univ-reims.fr

• Accepted languages: French, English, German, Spanish, Italian.

• Important information and dates for the full paper submission:

  • maximum length: 50.000 characters (notes and spaces included)
  • notification of the scientific committee: July 10th 2014
  • submission of full paper: October 15th 2014
  • notification of peer evaluation: December 2014
  • publication in number 4 of the online journal Savoirs en Prisme: expected by March 2015