The ‘International Language’

Some people may think the only international language is love.   Wrongo, punks.  What kind of person loves someone they can’t even talk to?

Nope, the real international language is art.  Some of it is international because without words it expresses a deeply held belief or invokes a powerful emotion.  Some of it is international because it has value and meaning to a wide variety of cultures and countries around the globe, even if that meaning is not exactly the same everywhere.  Some of it is international because no one really understands it, in any country.  Regardless, art serves to connect us, whether through response to it, esteem for it, or rejection of it.

A more specific  example can be seen here, relating to the specific art of classical music.  Now, whether or not you are a fan of classical music (or of the NY Philharmonic), the idea of a symphony being a bridge between two very different and often opposed cultures is inspiring to me.  it reminds me of that famous World War Christmas, when both sides stopped fighting and just sang carols back and forth in their disparate languages.  There is a respite, a gift, and a connection we share in music that has power and deep meaning, something of significance that I hope we can learn to develop.

There are studies that show calming effects due to music, and it is also thought to improve brain function in the elderly by stretching parts of the brain that are not typically or as frequently exercised. There has even been some success in the area of music therapy and Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.  Finally, this article paints an even more hopeful picture of the relationship between sound and better health.  Too bad I didn’t see this long one first.

Though it seems like similar types of music are processed by various people in similar ways, musical taste remains a hallmark of individual personality.  Why is this?  Is preference in some way linked to who we are, or who we want to be?  Does the emotion/memory/endorphin rush sparked by music look the same, or mostly the same, in all of us?  Or is some part of that response to music colored by our own preferences, or tastes?  Could music, over time, affect who we are, and if so, does it provide some evidence to a true ‘generation gap’ due to what type of music is popular in our culture at a given time?

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8 Comments

  1. Your Boyfriend said,

    February 25, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    The real international language — the universal language — Is Math.

  2. sedgehammer said,

    February 25, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    I think that’s true to a certain extent. Basic counting numbers and arithmetic words can be inferred across language and culture from a few simple examples. And there is the idea that mathematical concepts are consistent across languages and potentially across species (meaning aliens might have the same concepts too). But the idea of higher math being universally translatable presupposes an understanding of that higher math. For example, if I try to teach geometry or algebra to an eight year old kid or a pygmy without access to a standardized education system who doesn’t speak my language, I’m not certain they’d be able to overcome the language barrier. That same child or pygmy, however, can appreciate Bach.

  3. e'bess said,

    February 25, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Drat, someone beat me to it! Too bad I was literally TEACHING MATH to a bunch of kids who DON”T SPEAK MY LANGUAGE!

    And I agree somewhat with the higher math not being universal if you don’t have a foundation, but so much of math is truly universal, and I stand resolute in my belief that it is a universal language. Art can be too, but also math 🙂

  4. Alex said,

    February 25, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    If you have the time and wherewithal to teach someone math from the very basics, so that you can agree on variable names and symbols and all that good stuff, even higher math can be communicated without speaking the same language. Music might be a little faster, but I bet there are some concepts in music that are more easily communicated through language that would be the same as high math.

  5. sedgehammer said,

    February 25, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Yes, but if you’re teaching them math ‘from the very beginning’, aren’t you also teaching them your language? For example, how to you teach someone the transitive property as rule to be used later in proofs without using words?

  6. Alex said,

    February 25, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    I don’t have the symbols on my keyboard for it, but given A,B,C, if A>B & B>C, A>C. You just need symbols for ‘if’ and ‘then’ (and I guess ‘&’ if you want to be picky). If you’re asking how to refer to the transitive property without calling it ‘the transitive property’, you could have a giant book of rules that are numbered and call it number 105 or whatever. Alternatively, you could build each rule from scratch, recreating the transitive property every time. That’s more in line with the strict idea of proofs anyway. The important part is that since both parties need to understand the symbols, it’s going to end up being collaborative. He doesn’t learn your language and you don’t learn his, you learn a language together.

  7. sedgehammer said,

    February 26, 2008 at 9:16 am

    Alex –

    Thanks, as always, for the comments. I’m listing a few interesting links for you (and others) below related to the topic.

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=00082FD0-4578-1289-837D83414B7FFE9F
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/24/science/24geom.html?_r=2&oref=slogin
    http://www.mathematicallycorrect.com/allen4.htm
    http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/pubs/jeilms/vol13/math13.htm

  8. Alex said,

    February 26, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    Always nice to have my opinions backed up by some research. Thanks for looking them up! In regards to the first link, I actually always liked Whorf’s idea of language. It’s the idea behind the thought police stuff in ‘1984’ – if you don’t have a word for something, you can’t think about it. I think it might apply to higher concepts, maybe like ‘freedom of speech’ or something, but not to basic, potentially hardwired things like math.


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