University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > CMS seminar series in the Faculty of Music > Two problems in the analysis of tone-melody matching in tone language singing

Two problems in the analysis of tone-melody matching in tone language singing

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It is now accepted that song traditions in many Asian and African tone languages aim for some correspondence between the musical melody and the intrinsic melody of a sequence of spoken syllables. An important feature of this correspondence involves the pitch direction between pairs of syllables in sequence: for example, a syllable sequence L-H is best sung to a rising musical melody. However, many problems remain; I will discuss two, primarily on the basis of new data from studies of popular songs in three Chinese varieties.

(1) The pitch direction principle applies easily to level tones, but not to contour tones. So far the only reasonably secure generalisation is that in Cantonese pop songs, the end pitch of a contour tone is what determines how the tone is matched to music (Chan 1987). But it seems clear that this does not apply in all languages, and our data suggest that contour tones may actually be avoided to some extent in song texts.

(2) The status of sequences of two identical musical notes is ambiguous. Given a sequence of two different tones (e.g. H-L), a level (identical-note) sequence is often analysed as neither a match nor a mismatch, but something intermediate or neutral (‘non-opposing’, Schellenberg 2009; ‘non-parallel’, McPherson & Ryan 2018; ‘oblique’, Ladd & Kirby in press). However, given a sequence of two identical tones (e.g. H-H), an identical-note sequence is a match, and mismatch appears undefined. Our data show that in Cantonese, level sequences are not neutral, but are preferentially matched to sequences of identical non-high tones.

This talk is part of the CMS seminar series in the Faculty of Music series.

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