Accepted Paper:

Reciprocal singing as a musico-linguistic and anthropological practice  


Gaku Kajimaru (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science)

Paper short abstract:

To study singing requires a multidisciplinary approach. Musical and poetic/linguistic approaches can analyze its technical aspects, while an anthropological approach describes semantic aspects; these can be connected by semiotics. A study of reciprocal singing will offer an effective example.

Paper long abstract:

Singing is a multifaceted practice that requires a multidisciplinary approach. It offers both musical and poetic/linguistic expression. At the same time, it is a socially and psychologically framed performance. Here anthropology plays a significant role.

In most kinds of songs, the poetic/linguistic and the musical expression are entwined but essentially different, since language requires complex cognitive processing based on double articulation, but music doesn't. Music is a more direct medium that can convey emotion and social framework. The analytical concepts and methodology of linguistics and musicology can offer powerful means to clarify the song's technical features, but to understand its meaning for people, anthropology is required. This is apparent when we attempt to study reciprocal singing.

In the reciprocal singing style, singers attach improvised words to a fixed melody and sing with each other in the form of a conversation. Words are far more important than musical expression in this performance, since the creativity of singers is exerted. The melody is still indispensable, for it frames the situation and induces sentiment. To analyze this kind of song, we need to know the relationship between the words and melody, its poetic and linguistic aspects, and its aural features. Linguistic and musicological concepts and techniques must be introduced to this analysis. But to understand its meaning for people involved in this practice, it is essential to describe its ethnographic background and find a semiotic connection between the expression and its meaning. In this way, anthropology offers the foundation for the semiotic process.

Panel P072
Linguistic anthropology: contributions to the future (Commission on Linguistic Anthropology)