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Music, Myth and Language

Page history last edited by Anonymous 1 12 years, 10 months ago

Myth and music are "two sisters begotten by language"? What does he mean by this?


Mark Smith

Levi-Strauss (from now on called Claude) is referring to the parallel between myth and music.  After all, music oftentimes consists of stories popular in the culture.  Of course there is the option to have music completely free of myth--yet music often follows strict cultural patterns that regulate the beat, tempo, instruments, and words to an extent.  Claude mentions that an individual cannot hear/read part of a myth and understand it completely.  All aspects of the myth must be explored.  This is the same for music.  You cannot listen to just the intro or conclusion of a song and get the full effect.  Therefore, language can only be fully understood in its entirety.  Claude would even argue that it is not necessary for music to have lyrics to be myth's sister.  The mind, through the use of language, pulls a story out of the music.  In this way, purely instrumental music has as much myth content as lyrics.  Claude's argument assumes that myths and music must connect to language.  While it could be the case that a painting representing a popular myth is "language-less", Claude would argue that the painting is interpreted through the use of "language thought."  This applies to symphonies and music absent of lyrics as well.  It is language which is the root of myth and music.  Myth and music are separated entities, yet they obviously have a good relationship according to Claude.  This is why myth and music are so intertwined.   


The Connection between Myth, Music and Language

Allison Moss

When Levi-Strauss writes that myth and music are "two sisters begotten by language," he simply means that both forms have elements that are seen in language, but branch off in different directions. For example, language is made up of phonemes, which make up words, which make up sentences. Levi-Strauss argues that myths are made up of elements that resemble words and sentences, but not phonemes, because phonemes are essentially meaningless sounds. Music, according to Levi-Strauss, incorporates phoneme-like sounds (notes) and sentence-like sounds (phrases of music) but does not have an element that corresponds to words. In pointing out where myth and music fall short of language, Levi-Strauss means to illustrate how both myth and music use language as a jumping-off point, but then go in different directions. 



By saying that myth and music are “two sisters begotten by language,” Levi-Strauss means myth and music have similarity just like siblings but are different as they are not twins.They are sisters originating from language, as he mentions that language is a “point of departure” for both of them and myth and music are both forms of expression. But they are different as music emphasizes in sound aspect of language and myth in the meaning.  In language there are three levels, phonemes, words, sentences. Myth and music both lack in one level.  Although they  both similarly lack in one level,  they lack in different levels: music lacks the word level and myth lacks the phonemes level. They do have similarities and do share the origin but as Levi-Strauss says, the two sisters are "drawn apart, each going in different direction."  



Lindsey Scott


i thought that Levi-Strauss's argument that music and myth are "two sisters begotten by language" was an interesting one.  On the structural level, this is true.  As others have pointed out, langauge contains phonemes, words and sentences.  When you put them all together, you have language.  And in the same sense, when you put notes, phrases, and measures together to create music.  On the myth level, you need to have a beginning, a porblem, a moral and other aspects in order to create a myth in its entirety.  I agree with him in that myth and music are sisters because they are related on many different levels, however, I have a problem with his belief that they are begotten by language.  True that language is necessary for a myth to exist in spoken form, but music?  Is music begotten by language? This is where I would argue that his statement falls short.  This might be an individual opinion, but I think music is more begotten by emotion  and experience than language.  It is true that we would not have lyrics without language but I find that some of the more expressive and emotive pieces are the music that lacks words of any kind.  I don't know, maybe it has to do with the fact that culture is believed to come out of language and language thinking. 


Lauren Deal


Levi-Strauss' argument that music and myth are "two sisters begotten by language" deals with the structural nature of language that serves as a basis for his study of myth. In the same way that language structurally consists of paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships, so do both myth and music. There are, arguably, set parts of language that relate to each other in predictable ways within a given natural language. Phonemes in English combine in a set way to create words which combine in set ways to create sentences etc. While music and myth have fewer levels of complexity in this sense, Levi-Strauss argues that they are consistent with the patterns of language. My problem with this argument lies in the fact that Levi-Strauss seeks out meaning in such a specific and structure manner that is easy to put meaning into an interpretation that may not truly exist. Perhaps myths do have patterns or represent common themes but it seems that those themes are extracted through interpretation and are thus dependent on, in this case the western mind. Similarly, such an interpretation of music relies on many levels on a western, written style of music that is not necessarily true in all cultures. In fact, according to Amanda Weidman, "classical" music is strictly contrasted with western music. Both in terms of the aesthetic values and the fact that music is not written changes the emphasis on highly structured and thus predictable forms that Levi-Strauss seeks. In general, I feel Levi-Strauss is reaching a little. 



Abigail Parker

The relationship between music and myth, relates to two diverging themes of language.  The problem with this argument I have is similar to Lauren's.  Levi-Strauss is simply making a widely sweeping statement over two narrow examples.  I think one of the first problems with the comparison is the difference in how music and myth are composed.  Music -- in the form of classical compositions, sonatas and operas and whatnot -- is written.  Sure, as LS reminds us, talented composers seem to be inclined toward inspiration, but that is then refined and ultimately written down.  From my (limited) interactions with composers (of a sort), they describe a process similar to an author penning a novel.  Ultimately music is a written skill.


On the other hand, myth is much more of an oral skill.  Storytelling relies on great memory skills, articulation, and knowledge of cultural atmosphere.  We see that mythologies precede writing systems.  Essentially, myth is a spoken form.  By Levi-Strauss's own reasoning, this logically means that myth and music are fundamentally different.  In the end, I have problems with Levi-Strauss's logical argument.



Re: Abigail Parker

Lindsey Scott


The more I think about this argument, the more I think that Abigail and Lauren have a point.  I agree that music is more of a written skill while myth is an oral skill, and even though both are related to language I feel as though fundamentally this creates problems for Levi-Strauss's argument.  True, without language, we wouldn't have written or oral traditions, but in order to call these "two sisters begotten by language" should have a more solid base on which to create this argument.  I think that myth and music should have more in common with each other in order to be deemed sisters. 


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