Friday, April 11, 2008

solresol and tone in language

D: this was just a novelty language, but was so distinctive it is worth noting.

Solresol is an international auxiliary language designed by Jean Francois Sudre in 1827. He published his major book on it, Langue musicale universelle, in 1866, though he had already been publicizing it for some years. Solresol enjoyed a brief spell of popularity, reaching its pinnacle with Boleslas Gajewski's 1902 publication of Grammaire du Solresol.


Solresol words are made up of only seven different syllables. These syllables can be represented in a number of different ways — as musical notes of different pitch, as spoken syllables (based on solfege, a way of identifying musical notes), with colours, symbols, hand gestures etc. Thus, theoretically Solresol communication can be done through speaking, singing, flags of different color, etc. — even painting."

"The teaching of sign languages to the deaf mute was forbidden between 1880 and 1991 in France, contributing to Solresol's descent into obscurity."
D: being adopted, or opposed by governments can affect a language's success. I imagine that applies to NGOs too.

D: Solresol uses only pitch. Natural languages may use pitch to supplement or modify basic words.
However, some are more complex. In Yoruba there are three pitches (high, low, and middle) and the meaning of a word is determined by the pitch on the vowels. For example, the word "owo" in Yoruba could mean "broom", "hand", or "respect" depending on how the vowels are pitched. Also, "you" (singular) in Yoruba is o in a middle pitch, while the word for "he, she, it" is o in a high pitch. Change of pitch is used in some African languages (such as Luo) for grammatical purposes, such as marking past tense."

D: a language using a tone register resembles musical notes.
Mandarin is more complex.
"Syllables consist maximally of an initial consonant, a glide, a vowel, a final, and tone. Not every syllable that is possible according to this rule actually exists in Mandarin, as there are rules prohibiting certain phonemes from appearing with others, and in practice there are only a few hundred distinct syllables."

D: these rules leave Mandarin with only about 400 syllables, compared to the c. 12,000 in English. Using tone effectively prevents huge presence of homophones.
Everyone knows the example from Mandarin with the four "ma" words that mean horse/mother/hemp and scold.

D: Mandarin uses rising and falling tones, as well as having complex rules for how they interact called Sandhi. I can do the basic tones but that is it.

English only uses tone a bit in intonation. It might show a syllable stress. One raises the pitch of the last word in a question. But that is it.

My VERSE project is being used in a sci-fi story I'm writing on a futuristic sea-nomad subculture. I throw many different linguistic backgrounds together- world refugees. The pressures of a pidgin/creole are present, though without the particular features of one imperial to one colonial language. Instead of just generating vocabulary with tone, I propose methodically modifying the meaning of a grammatical element.
Take, for example, the following sentence.
"Dog bite boy."
A dog? Those dogs? Some dog? Did bite? Is biting? Will? Has been?
The Western musical octave contains 7 whole pitch notes, and 12 half notes.
The Arabic system includes 24 quarter pitch notes.
Using 7 whole notes, each with 4 possible quarter pitch notes, I indicate these nuances via tone.
This language could be very brief yet detailed. Used with old-style English auxiliary verbs, articles and such, it could function as redundant agreement for clarity. A nice bonus is that this language is backwards compatible, like a computer operating system, with less-or-none tonal pidgin English versions.

Learning pitch at and early age as part of a language, plus musical lessons leads to an amazing prevalence of speakers with perfect pitch!
"While we may never know the definitive answer, new research from the University of California, San Diego has found a strong link between speaking a tone language – such as Mandarin – and having perfect pitch, the ability once thought to be the rare province of super-talented musicians.

The first large-scale, direct-test study to be conducted on perfect pitch, led by psychology professor Diana Deutsch of UC San Diego, has found that native tone language speakers are almost nine times more likely to have the ability."


Perfect, or absolute, pitch is the ability to name or produce a musical note of particular pitch without the benefit of a reference note. The visual equivalent is calling a red apple "red." While most people do this effortlessly, without, for example, having to compare a red to a green apple, perfect pitch is extremely rare in the U.S. and Europe, with an estimated prevalence in the general population of less than one in 10,000."
D: babies are born with perfect absolute pitch, but not relative perfect pitch.
D: this is a cute monthly review of various languages.
Note how many figure prominently in works of fiction.
I read a book by the Futurology Society. It noted how many authors inspired many more readers with fictional accounts than with non-fiction. There is a lesson to be learned here.

D: English quirk of the day. A poem.

"A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there's dose and rose and lose -
Just look them up - and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart -
Come, come, I've hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive!
I'd mastered it when I was five!"

QOTD: "As a matter of fact, a national language which spreads beyond its own confines very quickly loses much of its original richness of content and is in no better case than a constructed language. "
Edward Sapir

1 comment:

Phil Shary said...

Fellow SolReSol speakers, I have some news for you - we are currently working on powerful and versatile software called SolReSol: The Project. Its aim is to make the world aware of SolReSol, help memorise the vocabulary, and, most importantly, provide visual and audio representation of the language! We are a small team of developers, so please take a look at our Indiegogo campaign to find out more: