The Music of a Language

January 30th, 2010

Every Language Has Its Own Rhythm
To continue in this series about pronunciation, another, less important aspect of English pronunciation, is the intonation, or music of the language. Every language has its own rhythm and music, and in addition, languages can have regional sounds as well.

A friend of mine, who is Portugese, was raised in Mozambique, and who has traveled extensively in Brazil, demonstrated this to me recently. When speaking the Portuguese of her mother, from Lisbon, I can only describe it as a rather somber sound. Saying the same thing, in her Portuguese from Mozambique, her rhythm sounded more poetic to me. Then, with her Brazilian interpretation, I heard the samba in it. It was interesting for me, as a non-Portugese speaker, how each regional sound was so differently melodic. If I was a Portuguese speaker, it might not have been so very distinctively musical.

The Music of English
English is much the same. The English considered, at this point in time, to be most “standard”, is west coast American English. This is the English used by American newscasters, and is readily understood by most all English speakers. This English has a particular rhythm and lilt to it, different from the English spoken in places on the east coast, in the mid-west, and, most notoriously, the American south. And of course, all of this differs from the English spoken in the UK (which has many different melodies of its own), Australia, New Zealand, and the many English-speaking islands of the Caribbean and Bahamas. They are all lovely, and all distinct.

Listen to Traditional Music to Understand the Music of the Language
A good way to gain an understanding of the music of American English is to listen to the traditional American forms of vocal music: folk music, blues, and of course, the very influential jazz. This is what we’ve listened to for generations, and this is the musical poetry we have transformed our speaking into.

In fact, listening to traditional native vocal music is a very good way to understand the music of any language.

2 Responses to “The Music of a Language”

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  2. TahoeEnglish says:

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