The Semiotic Elements in Music and Language in "Song of the Lark: March" by Tchaikovsky

Essay, 2017

11 Pages



Symbolic system

The expression of music and language
1. Music and language – sound of the system
2. Music and language – physiological process

Content expressed by music and language
1. Music and language – cultural system
2. As cognitive music and language
3. Music and language as a symbolic system

Meaning conveyed from music and language

The sense of harmony in music
1. Rhythm and meter
2. Tonality
3. Counterpoint

The meaning in music

The integrity of the characteristics of semiotic methods


Reference list

Semiotics has proven to be an effective way to describe and analyse music. It can also be used as a basis for comparing the language and music of a certain culture. From a cultural or cognitive point of view, the purpose of music and language research is to find out some form of their external structure. Using the method of semiotics allows us to understand the structure of music and language on the basis of the structure, as well as how they relate to their cultural environment and their cognitive and neural basis.

Symbolic system

Music and language belong to the symbolic category, which both of them are a special kind of symbolic system. There is an analogical relationship between music and linguistic symbols and generalised symbols within their hierarchical relations.

Generalised symbolic system can usually be divided into three levels:

1. Sub-symbol: also known as the sign vehicle. It is the material carrier of information, such as the form of notes in music, dot stroke, horizontal stroke, turning stroke, vertical stroke, left falling stroke, right-falling stroke, hook stroke in Chinese characters, alphabetic letters, and motions in semaphore, dots and lines in telegram password.
2. Symbol: signs in this level are a certain material carrier and the unity of information purport, for example musical notes perform a certain nature (the level of sound and length), the produce of a certain sound and its combination with meaning (or writing stroke), such as Chinese characters, and words, combination of certain action and action meaning in Flag semaphore.
3. Super-sign: this level can also be called the symbol series. At this level, linked symbols are combined to convey coherent information, so as to achieve the exchange of ideological content. For example, a movement of a music piece, an article of a literary work, or a set of flag semaphore is categorised as super-sign. It can be seen that music and language have more in common in these three levels, which is worthy of comparison and discussion. This paper attempts to compare the expression, content and meaning of music and language from the perspective of synthetical semiotics, in order to reveal their similarities and differences.

The expression of music and language

1. Music and language – sound of the system

Symbolic system refers to a set of associated content and expression: music and language are examples of symbolic system, in which sound is their medium of expression. The main difference between these two systems is that, language makes use of vocalization, pauses, nasal sound and other pronunciation features to form a series of basic sound units and phonemes, producing various morpheme or basic lexical units. This assembles the dual expression of language. Nevertheless, music does not seem to have the same pattern to express itself. This distinction is important because the dual expression of language makes it possible to express the content.

Although the semantic symbols can explain things and ideas in reality through concept and its logical expression, it is hard to express human inner experience, such as emotion and feeling and artistic symbols are different, despite the fact that it does not have exact expression of concepts and abstract ideas, it can vividly convey the human’s inner emotion and feeling which language cannot. Music is one of the most typical artistic symbols to convey human’s emotion and feeling, as there is a striking agreement between the form of music and emotion.

2. Music and language – physiological process

Research on fetuses and newborns has further demonstrated that there may be a physical and psychological connection between music and language (Brandt, et al., 2012). Music and language seem to have originated from the development of fetal nervous system and its sound environment in the womb. In the process of growth, baby hums, whispers and babbles according to the needs of emotion, and these expressions gradually develop into language and songs, while there is no obvious distinction to babies between language and songs.

Ear is an important bridge between music and language. The listening, understanding, memory and output of sound form a ring structure. When one speaks and sings, sound produced from the vocal organ is constantly being input to the ring structure, dominating the output of the vocal organ. Even it is without the sound produced from the body, we can hear the written notes or improvisation (for professional musicians) in our heart. Similar to the fact that we are able to hear the sentence we read to ourselves or speech that we are going to give in heart, this phenomenon is called as audition or psycho-perception. Listen to music as in thinking in speech. Therefore, audition is a cognitive process consists of hearing, understanding and cultural influence.

Content expressed by music and language

As music and language are the carriers to express content by sound, these structured sounds can be seen as cultural system, cognitive or symbolic system.

1. Music and language – cultural system

The spread of human’s cultural knowledge rely much on language. Regardless to how simple the material life or technical conditions are in their culture, different regions of human society have a complex linguistic system. Likewise, there is music in all cultures of mankind. Unlike language, music does not record things, events and processes in the humanistic environment. Yet, same as language, music divides the field of understanding into meaningful components. This division varies by culture and affects the selected notes and how they are combined.

Humans have the unique ability to create symbols and respond to symbols. The reality of the material world becomes a cultural reality through the system of linguistic signs. Therefore, language operates as a cultural symbol system, and music is also regarded as a cultural symbol system. In this system, various forms in the natural world or human world are given metaphorical meanings. This metaphorical meaning can be reduced to some basic or typical components, and to be combined in a certain system to form a very complex symbolic meaning or mysterious meaning.

As a cultural symbol system, there is an inseparable relationship between music and its cultural environment, as well as the value, attitudes and beliefs of the creators. Music conveys its relevant forms to audience through the pieces, still it relies on the audience for cultural content, giving a new meaning to its formality. Music has far more significance than the sound output in all cultures, which includes strengthening social relations and the relationship between rituals and particular social functions.

2. As cognitive music and language

The cognitive understanding of music and language is the essence of these modes of communication and how they are learned. Music and language are dependent on listening and speaking, and early learning has nothing to do with objective goals. Neurophysiological studies have shown that children's learning of these two models is achieved through the establishment of psychological models; these mental models react in the activation of the cerebral cortex (Jäncke, 2012).


Excerpt out of 11 pages


The Semiotic Elements in Music and Language in "Song of the Lark: March" by Tchaikovsky
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
513 KB
Cognitive, Language, Music, Semiotics, Symbols
Quote paper
Andrea Fung (Author), 2017, The Semiotic Elements in Music and Language in "Song of the Lark: March" by Tchaikovsky, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The Semiotic Elements in Music and Language in "Song of the Lark: March" by Tchaikovsky

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free