Term Paper: Uses of Formulaic Language in Music

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Formulaic Language

The Use of Formulaic Language in Today's Musical Genres: A Comparison of Country and Pop Lyrics

Music is a ubiquitous and universal feature in human culture. Though it can serve as a means of communication and of record keeping in pre-literate societies, this is not music's primary function in most societies or necessarily in any society -- there seems to be something intrinsic to music itself that makes it a necessary component of human culture and society. Something about the rhythms and the melodies of musical expression connect with the brains and/or could of individuals in a way that science is beginning to recognize but will likely never fully explain. Still, the interpretations and conclusions that have been arrived at in regards to music through scientific study are interesting to not, especially in the areas of the "soft" or human sciences that do not have the same rigid cause-and-effect structures of physics, for example.

Many attempts have been made to analyze music in terms of linguistic theory, with music equated to a language with discrete phrases similar in arrangement to sentences with their specific rules of syntax, and with a grammar of melodic and harmonic relationships that produces music that "makes sense" to the ear and the mind. Other scholars have noted that music truly resists this analysis and comparison when viewed objectively, and that it is a human phenomenon as independent and self-contained as any other complex cognitive process or achievement. Regardless of which view is true, the modern era has increasingly seen the mixture of language and music as a means of achieving combined meaning that is more strongly asserted than by either medium independently.

Words and music have long been paired together, of course, and the human voice is likely the oldest musical instrument ever used. From tribal chants that can still be observed in certain cultures in African and the Americas to the epic poems of the ancient Greeks that existed in song form long before they were ever written down, through the use of Hebrew and Latin passages in songs written for prayer -- a practice utilized by many cultures with many linguistic and religious backgrounds -- and the eventual emergence of the popular song that was unrelated to these higher motives and ideals, words and music have gone together in virtually limitless parings. It is not until the modern era, however, that truly different genres of music have competed for attention within a single culture at the same time.

The proliferation of musical styles is obvious to anyone living in a reasonable developed country today; especially in Europe and North America as well as the more "Westernized" countries of other continents, a simple glance around a record store or examination of the plethora of popular music magazines announces the large and diverse importance that individuals ascribe to various musical genres. Rap, Hip-Hop, RnB, Rock and Roll, Alternative, Punk, Funk, Emo, Techno, House, Reggae, Reggaeton…all of these different styles have different followings in different cultures and all also utilize the relationship between words and music in radically different ways, though with some notable similarities as well. This paper will examine the use of formulaic language patterns in the genres of country music and what is defined (for lack of a better term) as pop music.

Formulaic Language

The traditional view of language as comprised of generally discrete units of meaning marked off by specific phoneme combinations -- i.e. words -- still holds true in a majority of contexts and situations. Researchers have increasingly noted, however, the appearance and use of formulaic language or formulaic expressions, which are essentially strings of words that are used in their entirety and are recalled as discrete functional units in their own right (Wray & Perkins 2000). Though all formulaic language expressions are made up of intelligible words, and indeed their meanings of all such expressions is ultimately derived from their constituent words, formulaic language appears to work differently in the brain both when expressing and when observing language than do other word… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Uses of Formulaic Language in Music."  Essaytown.com.  November 30, 2010.  Accessed December 11, 2019.
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