Language and Music

By Ma

“Se souvenir du passé ce n’est pas nécessairement se souvenir des choses telles qu’elles étaient.”

Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.

———————————————————Marcel Proust

Often I hear people say “music is a language who knows no border”, or suggest “everyone from all around the globe can communicate with one another through music”, and I thus wonder to what extent language and music are superposed.

Unfortunately as an amateur of music, I can hardly offer scientific nor scholastic evidence to prove the inextricable links between the two disciplines. Yet experientially speaking, music does play a pivotal role in my language acquisition. Songs of The Beatles and BeeGees are all important factors to effect chains of chemical reaction of my childhood passion for English learning. The more I listened to their simple and touching music – their emotive melodies and their meaningful lyrics –, the more thirst I had for singing as appealingly as those renowned bands did. My parents and teachers, who are aware of my zeal for their songs, had taught me the meaning and pronunciation of the lyrics so that I was capable of opening up my vocal cords at last and warbling during a shower at night, or whenever I wanted.

Probably I was born to be slightly introvert, Rap and Rock – heavy metal music – are never my cup of tea. While thinking back, I do consider myself as a lucky star, since those genres may not be good teaching materials for English learning. During my childhood, I was thus preoccupied myself with English music and literature.

But it does not mean that I only lent my ear to English music. As a native Hongkongese, I also listen every now and then to a diverse Cantonese and Mandarin songs, although more time has been spent on listening the latter, which I regret now because my Cantonese sounds no longer native anymore. I have no predilection for a particular genre of Mandarin pop music (or Mandopop), but apparently Taiwanese music sounds more familiar to me simply because of the easy accessibility from my friends and my classmates.

Thanks to such an exposure, Mandarin is not an oriental stranger and I do feel at ease with speaking the lingua franca.  Were I asked about any excruciating experience with learning Mandarin, I should say it was when I listened to the song of Jay Chou, a celebrated Taiwanese singer and lyricist.  His songs are indeed beautifully written, and understanding those lyrics can foster my spoken Chinese. However, the way he performed those songs sounds incessant mumbles and mutters while some expressions used in the songs are too sophisticated for even a Chinese to comprehend. At times I hesitate whether to listen to them or not, too.

[Photo taken by James on 9th June, 2009 somewhere in Europe]

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