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Levi-Strauss, Claude - On music and language



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A description of the experience

Levi Strauss – Myth and Meaning

The basic elements of language are phonemes – that is those sounds that we represent, incorrectly, by the use of letters – which have no meaning in themselves but which are combined in order to differentiate meaning. You could say practically the same thing of the musical notes.

A note – A, B, C, D and so on – has no meaning in itself; it is just a note. It is only the combination of the notes which can create music. So you could well say that, while in language we have phonemes as elemental material, in music we would have 'tonemes'....

But if you think of the next step – you will find that phonemes are combined in order to make words; and words in their turn are combined to make sentences. But in music there are no words; the elementary materials – the notes – are combined together, but what you have right away is a 'sentence', a melodic phrase.

So while in language you have three very definite levels – phonemes combined to make words, words combined to make sentences – in music you have with the notes something of the same kind of phonemes from a logical point of view, but you miss the word level and you go directly to a sentence.

The source of the experience

Levi-Strauss, Claude

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