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The pragmatic bases of musical meaning

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Music in present day western society is generally conceived of either as a consumable commodity or as an abstract aesthetic object. However, evidence from non-western societies together with a more detailed consideration of music outside the institutions of the academy and of commerce, supports the view of music as an active, interactive, and universally accessible communicative behaviour which shares significant features with language. In this paper we shall present evidence to support the view that music is a communicative mode optimised for the management of situations of social uncertainty, and explore the implications of this view for the interrelationships between music and language. We shall evaluate the adequacy of conventional approaches to understanding propositionality in music within a teleosemantic framework, which appears to provide an effective means of articulating and distinguishing the scope of meaning relations within music and language. We shall discuss preliminary evidence which suggests that common processes rooted in biological affordances and predicated upon pitch structures underlie inferences about communicative attitudes in both language and music. We shall also assess the extent to which temporal features of musical and linguistic structures and interactions can be understood from the perspective of theories of entrainment.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society (LingSoc) series.

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