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Mon, 05 Sept


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Music and Speech in Social Bonding

Language and music tend to be thought of as distinct domains of human life. One is necessary and purposeful, the other is on the whole a superfluous means of entertainment. Ian Cross, Emeritus Professor of Music and Science, will tell us why that view is misleading.

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Music and Speech in Social Bonding

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05 Sept 2022, 19:30

Zoom - click RSVP for link in event details

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Language and music tend to be thought of as distinct domains of human life. The one is necessary and purposeful, in that it allows us to refer and to organise joint action in pursuit of common goals; the other can at best elicit powerful emotional experiences, but is, on the whole, a rather superfluous means of entertainment. However, this view is misleading. Sometimes, language is not used to refer, while music may do much more than simply reflect emotion. Considered as interactive media, music, and language in at least one of its functional manifestations, are almost indissociable. When music takes the form of participatory interaction, it has the capacity to enhance a sense of mutual affiliation or bonding between participants. Similarly, language, or more properly, speech, in the phatic register —when the actual words used in dialogic interaction are less important than is the mere act of communicating— has the capacity to establish a sense of social togetherness. Participatory music and phatic speech seem to fulfil the same function of minimising social tension through creating social bonds, forms of social action that are likely to be fundamental to the workings of societies at all levels. In this talk I shall review recent evidence that suggests that phatic speech and interactive music overlap not only in terms of function but also in terms of form. Similar processes of interactive alignment appear to be at work in both, coordinative uses of timing and pitch that we tend to conceive of as musical but that might be better described as attributes of affiliative communicative interaction in general. A feasible conclusion is that participatory music, and speech in the affiliative register, are culturally-specific manifestations of a superordinate human predisposition for affiliative communicative interaction so that any exploration of a linguistic culture that ignores music is, of necessity, incomplete.Ian Cross is Emeritus Professor of Music & Science at Cambridge University.

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