Over the last year I have been working with Karen Ludke (Edge Hill University, UK) on a joint project about multilingual singing. This is a new research strand that I will be developing alongside my exisiting research on assignment feedback.
The idea emerged from my recent work in intercultural competence as part of the production of the OU module L161 Exploring languages and cultures , my involvement in the MAGICC project, and above all an ongoing interest in multilingual singing, where my research has been inspired by my singing practice.
Where there is a language, there are songs. While not all languages spoken in the world have got written forms, every single language is, at some point or another, used in singing. In a world that is becoming increasingly connected, contact between different cultures, their languages, and their musics is more common that it has ever been.
Researchers have already turned their attention to certain aspects of the diverse and complex relationships that exist between language, music, and culture, but knowledge in this area is still patchy and disjointed. Furthermore, none of the existing research strands provides a cohesive account of the many areas relating to multilingualism in musical practices. Given the ubiquitous presence of language contact and interculturality in human society, such a lack of research is rather surprising, and might be partly due to the wide range of academic disciplines and research traditions that the topic could potentially draw upon. There needs to be a common strand that brings all these traditions together.
Our aim is to reposition musicolinguistics as an academic field, and to provide an interdisciplinary framework for its study. Traditionally the term has been used in the areas of semiotics and cognitive psychology (e.g. Antović, 2005). However we believe that the scope of this discipline is potentially much wider and therefore the term musicolinguistics should also include – among others – relevant areas in sociolinguistics, education and intercultural studies.
The Multilingual Singing project
We are currently working on three complementary strands:
An extensive literature review
We are currently looking at related studies in applied linguistics (e.g. music and second language acquisition), sociolinguistics (e.g. language contact and translanguaging), psycholinguistics (e.g. language/music processing), education (e.g. language and music teaching, informal learning), cultural studies (e.g. identity and hybridity in musical –including digital- practices), ethnomusicology (e.g. musical cultures), intercultural studies (e.g. intercultural citizenship), and translation studies (translating lyrics). This will be submitted as a joint publication in due course.
Choir directors survey
It has been shown that singing songs in a foreign language can be used effectively to support verbal learning and memory (Ludke, Ferreira & Overy, 2014). There is also evidence that learning songs in another language that come from another culture may improve singers’ attitudes toward members of that culture (Sousa, Neto, and Mullet, 2005; Chen-Hafteck, 2007). Many professional and amateur choir directors choose songs in different languages as part of their choral repertoire, but to date, there is little information regarding the reasons why they do so or on the effects of including foreign language songs on intercultural understanding. This study aims to explore the reasons why choral directors in the UK choose to include songs in different languages in their repertoire how choir members respond to foreign language materials, and how these songs may affect choir members’ intercultural awareness and understanding. We have now completed the survey (61 responses) and are currently analysing the results.
I have been offering public workshops where participants learn to sing songs in different languages. I have also created a Multilingual Singing website that includes a blog, information about past and forthcoming workshops, resources and gallery. The website is linked to a twitter account @MFTSong which is followed by external organisations involved with the community, arts charities, etc.
Other related projects
I am also involved in the Research Studio, a project seeking to develop an innovative area of research for CREET by bringing together researchers and visual and performing artists.
Antović, M. 2005. Musicolinguistics–from a Neologism to an Acknowledged Field. Facta Universitatis – Linguistics and Literature, 3 (12), pp. 243–57.
Chen-Hafteck, L. 2007. Contextual analyses of children’s responses to an integrated Chinese music and culture experience. Music Education Research, 9, pp. 337-353.
Ludke, K.M., Ferreira, F., & Overy, K. 2014. Singing can facilitate foreign language learning. Memory & Cognition, 42 (1), pp. 41–52. DOI 10.3758/s13421-013-0342-5.
Sousa, M. D. R., Neto, F., & Mullet, E. 2005. Can music change ethnic attitudes among children? Psychology of Music, 33, pp. 304-316.
VanAlstine, S, and Holmes, A. 2010. The Effect of Course Content and Pedagogy on Undergraduate Students International-Mindedness and Preferences for World Music. University of Wisconsin–Whitewater.