MUSIC AND LANGUAGE, PROVOCATIVE QUESTION #53 – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #53


I need to begin this by saying that I don’t think music IS a language. I agree that it is universal. It crosses over national and cultural borders.

But it’s music, not a language. There are some songs that are language, but it’s the words that makes them a language, not the music.

I love music. I was a musical child, spent 18 years studying piano and was a music major in college. Music can be transcendental. It can make you happy when you are sad. In its own way, it speaks to your heart and emotions

Nonetheless, it isn’t a language, not in the sense that we have typically used the word language. Specific information is not part of music nor should it be. Sure there are songs that were meant to be more about the words than the music. That’s a different story.

A lot of folk music was written to support a specific political movement is more about words than music, but it doesn’t turn music into a language. Words imposed over the music isn’t a language. It’s a song. Maybe a great song, but still — a song.

Music is beautiful. I love every kind of music, minus rap and I’m not wild about hip-hop. That’s age-related. I get that. Music to me is designed to be enjoyed, felt, loved, remembered. Let’s not turn it into something else.

Let’s enjoy music for what it is.

THE “OLD PERSON” WEATHER REPORT – Marilyn Armstrong

These days, watching television and seeing even the finest meteorologist give a forecast that is everything other than summer would be a lot funnier if it didn’t mean that climate change is hitting this area — New England —  harder than it is hitting other places in the world.

Nobody ever said it would hit every place equally at the same time, although somehow that’s how I imagined it.

This idea came to me as I commented to Garry that my sinuses were throbbing, my lower back felt a little better than it had earlier, but both hips were pulsing in pain. also, I have a massive headache and both eyes feel like someone poured sand into them. Translated into meteorologist-ese, it means:

Chipping Sparrow

Humidity is rising, barometric pressure is dropping, probably fast. Temperature is falling quicker than my head can handle and the air, for the moment, is very dry (eyes), probably because I ticked up the heat by a couple of degrees.

I suddenly foresaw a new kind of weather report. Traditional and “old person” weather.

First, the modern, up-to-date scientific meteorologist gives his report. Maps, stats, wind directions, where it’s coming from, going to. When we’ll get sleet, freezing rain, blinding snow, less blinding snow, total amounts from Connecticut through Maine. How much of whatever falls will fall on us?

How long will it last?

Next snow?

By the time he’s done, he has forecast every possible form of winter weather and all anyone knows it that is will be cold, wet, and ugly. I better make a new doctor’s appointment in the morning. No matter how good a driver Garry is, he isn’t the only one on the road. There are an awful lot of people who don’t “get” that simply slowing down would prevent a lot of weather-related accidents. Four-wheel-drive doesn’t help on ice or sleet.

The weather report’s not over yet. Winter weather reports take up at least half our news broadcast, just as — when one of our teams is winning — sports takes up at least half the report. Especially baseball and football.

Photo: Garry Armstrong –Winter at home

Part two of the report has no stats, numbers, or maps. There’s an old person, male or female —  both? — in comfy chairs, rambling on a bit. Local color. “Remember that 24 inches we got on April 1st in the 1990s? That was some storm … and it all melted in three days. Lots of flooding,” she says.

“My right shoulder is bad,” he says. “Suppose that means cold with snow.”

“My spine hurts bottom to top. Rain first. Likely sleet, then snow. The boiler is in overdrive, so temps are dropping. Bad day tomorrow. Coming from the west. so it’s packing a lot of water. Unless we get lucky, we’ll have a nor’easter along the coast. Good thing we don’t live on the coast anymore, eh?”

“We’ll get twice as much snow as they get along the coast, but at least we won’t flood.” says the old guy.

“Not yet,” she points out. “When it melts, it’ll be dicey.”

“Figure six inches at least, depending on how much sleet and freezing rain we get before the snow. With the falling temps? Gonna be black ice under the snow. Time to cancel that appointment with the doctor.”

Everybody over fifty will relate. Anyone who plays sports will get it. What’s more, we will be accurate — at least locally. Can’t do national forecasts, but we can tell you how it’s gonna be right here in the lower Massachusetts section of the Blackstone Valley.

A heating pad really helps.

WORDS AND WILDLIFE – Marilyn Armstrong

I have no doubt my dogs think. They don’t have as long a memory as people and I don’t think they get into nostalgia or reminiscing, but they plan. They will work together to accomplish a particular goal. Like opening a gate, dismembering a toy, or opening a door. No doubt they would hunt together too. Dogs are pack animals.

They communicate. One will get up, walk to another. They look at each other, then both of them go and wake a third dog. After which all three go out to bark at something only they can see — or ramble into the kitchen to remind us they need dinner. I suspect they believe we won’t remember to feed them unless they remind us.

300-gibbs-sofa-dog-13122016_002

What forms do their thoughts take? It isn’t words. Even though they can understand some words when we use them, I doubt that’s how they form ideas. So they must think using other senses. How much is visual? Do they think in sound and scent? They know what they want. They can be remarkably clever and creative in getting what they want,  but how do they plan without using language?

Now and again, I try to “think” without words. I always fail. Inevitably, anything in my head comes with narration and subtexts.

Dolphins and whales talk to each other in their own language, or so we believe. Apes can be taught to communicate with humans using sign language, but it’s not their native form of communication. The words we use are species-specific. More to the point, human-specific. Although we can teach other creatures to understand and sometimes even use our words, it’s not normal for them. They are bright enough to “get it,” but if not taught, they would be perfectly content to think in the manner that comes naturally to them.

People need words. It’s not only how we communicate. It’s basic to our understanding of the world. It’s how we categorize objects and ideas — and remember.

In the human world, ideas and concepts don’t exist without words. Language has the hooks on which we hang everything, real and conceptual. We are the only species who need a spoken language and absolutely the only creature who writes. Along with our opposable thumb, it’s how we rule the earth.

If we were to lose our languages, we would probably lose it all. I don’t think our thumbs would save us.