Constituent Structure and Ordering in Serial Music and Language Games

Joe Argentino and Sara Mackenzie, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Commonalities between musical and linguistic structure will be illustrated through an examination of reversing operations, found in both language games and in the pitch patterns of serial music. Both music and language constitute complex, abstract, and human specific systems. Adding to the body of existing literature on the structural similarities of music and language (e.g. Lerdahl & Jackendoff 1983, Katz & Pesetsky 2011), this work focuses on the relationship between phonological language games and serial music.

Phonology is the study of sound patterning in language and the cognitive representation of speech sounds. Phonological studies of language games (e.g. Bagemihl 1989, 1995, Vaux 2011) have provided evidence for theories of phonological representations. Constituents manipulated by language games are abstract, theoretically motivated units such as syllables and timing units. These constituents have also been invoked in work exploring similarities between musical and linguistic structures, particularly in analyses of metrical structure necessary for stress assignment in language and grouping structures in music (e.g. Fabb & Halle 2011). This poster presents additional evidence for hierarchical constituent structures in music by demonstrating commonalities between manipulation of prosodic constituents in language games and related pitch sequence structures in serial music. Furthermore, we show that the analysis of serial compositions as comprised of alterations in constituent ordering, analogous to the manipulation of constituents in language games, provides a simpler, more intuitive analysis for understanding and hearing pitch class transformations than does analysis in terms of TnTnI operators.