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Schema Theory
as a

Music Theory Online 21.2 (2015)

Language and Music Share Domain-General Cognitive Functions

Robert Gjerdingen and Janet Bourne invite you to explore how six central principles of construction grammar in contemporary linguistics have analogues in musical schema theory

Abstract: Construction grammar, recently described as “the fastest growing linguistic and interdisciplinary approach to language” (Goldberg 2013, 30) has its foundations in the psychology of human categorization and other general cognitive abilities. So does schema theory in music. In the first extended comparison of these research programs, we present six central principles of construction grammar and demonstrate their relevance and applicability to schema-theoretic studies of music: 1) grammatical constructions, 2) surface structure, 3) a network of constructions, 4) cross-linguistic variability and generalization, 5) usage-based knowledge, and 6) exemplar models. Because studies in child development have played such an important role in changing how scholars view language acquisition and grammar formation (Tomasello 2003) we have chosen to illustrate many of the arguments with musical examples drawn from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century conservatories. An orphan at one of the eighteenth-century conservatories in Naples, the prodigy Henri Fissot at the Paris Conservatory in the 1850s, and the young Rachmaninoff at the Moscow Conservatory in the 1890s all learned the art of composition through the age-old practice of child apprenticeship. From the musical utterances made by these apprentices in response to exercises and contests one can infer much about the grammar being acquired. Extensive musical examples suggest that construction grammar can provide a model for how a large repertory of learned patterns of varying dimensions can collectively function as a flexible and adaptive music grammar.

Keywords: schema theory, functional linguistics, construction grammar, collocation, collostruction, music grammar, partimenti, music conservatories, music education, corpus studies, music theory, Rachmaninoff, Arensky, Glazunov, Balakirev, Fissot, Bazin, Fenaroli, Durante, Mozart, Grétry

Adele Goldberg

Grammatical Constructions

Constructions are defined as conventional, learned form-function pairings at varying levels of complexity and abstraction.

Coral Reef with Turtle

Surface Structure

Construction grammar does not involve any transformational or derivational component. Semantics is associated directly with the surface form.

A Telephone Network

A Network of Constructions

The constructions of a given language do not form an unstructured set. Relationships between and among constructions are captured via a default inheritance network.

Foreign Word Cloud

Crosslinguistic Variability and Generalization

Languages [and musics] are acknowledged to vary in wide-ranging ways. The crosslinguistic generalizations that do exist are explained by domain-general cognitive processes or by the functions of the constructions involved.

Joan Bybee

Usage-Based Knowledge

Particular languages are learned by generalizing over utterances that a learner has heard used, while language production and comprehension involve combining or decomposing an utterance into its more basic form-function correspondences.

R. M. Nosofsky

Exemplar Models of Categorization

Categorization does not involve necessary and sufficient conditions, but rather generalizations over exemplars, typically including prototypical exemplars and conventionalized extensions.

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