This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for having both poetry and music in my life. I read and write poetry and count several poets as friends. And, I have a partner who plays a great guitar, has an vinyl album collection second to none and loves me. Our kids are fast becoming talented musicians and pretty fine writers, too.
So, when I found Language Log’s, Poem in the key of what, I was naturally interested.
The idea behind this paper is that the pitch contours of speech naturally express the same sorts of melodic intervals that occur in music. This is an old idea, prominent already in Paṇini’s work two and a half millennia ago, but Schreuder et al. have a new idea about how to look for the phenomenon. While it’s clear that musical intervals are part of the stylized forms of speech that we call “chanting”, I’ve always been skeptical that well-defined intervals (in the sense of small-integer ratios of pitch values) play a role in unchanted speech. I’ll explain some reasons for my skepticism later in this post. However, it would be fun to be wrong on this one.