Haupz Blog

... still a totally disordered mix

Musical Languages

2023-01-03 — Michael Haupt

I like languages - human and programming languages alike. And I have a sweet spot for “constructed” human languages, such as Esperanto. (I don’t speak any Klingon or Quenya though.)

One interesting niche in the constructed languages corner is the one where the languages are musical.

Olivier Messiaen (one of my favourite composers) used a “communicable language” wherein he mapped letters of the alphabet to note pitches and values. He later added patterns for grammatical aspects and certain frequently used words. The principle of mapping letters to tones, however, only goes so far: essentially, the language heard when playing the notes is still the language in which the original text was written - the musical notation is “just” a different writing system. A sophisticated one, granted, but a writing system.

François Sudre did a more consequential design when he came up with Solresol. Here, patterns of notes represent linguistic concepts. The first note of a pattern denotes one of seven categories; repetition adds topicality; and so forth. There are also rules for grammar. Now there’s a language.

Texts in Solresol don’t sound particularly melodic, but mostly harmless because they only use the seven tones of the scale that are on “white” keys. If I was to give a critique, I’d raise the concern that Solresol doesn’t make use of all twelve tones, making it lack in expressiveness somewhat.

My old colleagues at Babbel have a nice article on Solresol.

Tags: music, the-nerdy-bit