Riffin’ in the Infinitive

Learning to speak a new language has many parallels with playing a musical instrument.  When I played the cello, I had to constantly be aware of where I was going.  In fact, reading music, you always have to stay a few measures ahead!Image

When speaking a new language, you have to think: what verb works here?  Should I use the infinitive?  Does that noun need a feminine adjective?  How many people am I talking about anyway?!

Listening and repeating a sound verbatim is also a common element.  When I was studying music, we took a class called eurythmics, wherein we heard a melody or beat pattern and had to repeat it.  Over time, they became much more complex.  We learned how to store the pattern for a short time while we played it back.

For me, a little-recognized benefit of musical study in language learning is the “trading” that goes on in small group music making:  I play this phrase with force, and you answer it with timidity.  I shape the line with a flourish, and you answer with another.

This “trading” also happens in language, as we trade: “Hey, how are ya?” for “Doin’ fine!”  Most everyday language happens without much thought as we trade common phrases among our interlocutors, just as we trade musical phrases among our fellow musicians.


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