Music as a universal language

We often hear people say that language is a universal language, and we like to uncritically accept such assessment. I thought today of polishing up that metaphor a little. Why don’t we consider music as a language family, like the Niger-Congo, Austranesian, Sino-Tibetan, Afro-Asiatic or Indo-European language families.

Communication between speakers of different languages of such families can be difficult and will resort to other than linguistic means, such as gestures and facial expressions. Consider for example that Russian, Punjabi and French are all Indo-European languages, but if a Russian, Frenchman and Punjabi walk in a bar, they aren’t likely to celebrate their newfound camaraderie with an intellectual conversation. Yet, they might get along well. The way they understand each other shows the universality of human language. It is apparent in the ease with which we intuitively understand the intention of a tender lullaby or a fierce insult, a cheerful invitation to drink or a disapproving grin.

I compare this to different genres in music. So what is a better place to test the thesis that music is a universal language than musical cross-overs, collaborations between musicians with completely different backgrounds (like jazz and baroque) or interpretations of music from the ears of another genre?

I have compiled a list of a few of these musical collaborations and would love to know your thoughts and additions!










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