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What Happens When an Invented Language Is Set To Music?: A Linguistic Study of Dogorian

Abstract : Dogora, suite populaire dogorienne de Proszeshny orientale, composed by Etienne Perruchon and adapted for cinema by director Patrice Leconte, sets 'le dogorien' (referred to here as Dogorian), an 'imaginary language' created by the composer, to music. Setting invented languages to music raises several intriguing research issues. Although music may imitate the sounds of the world (birds, thunder, train whistles and so on), it is generally non-referential and cannot represent the complex meanings conveyed by language. On the other hand, there is evidence that some features of music, such as particular melodic intervals or variation of tempo, do evoke emotional meanings across cultures, and perhaps universally (Mithen 2006: 85-101). The art of the lyricist involves wedding syllables to notes, thereby harnessing the referential machinery of language to the powerful emotions of music, an achievement that requires considerable tinkering and numerous trade-offs given the multiple constraints of the two semiotic systems. What happens when a composer creates lyrics in an invented language? Do all the structural constraints of natural language disappear? Is it even possible to create a universal invented language that is devoid of meaning? Do strings of sounds inspired by the phonemes of natural languages inevitably carry with them associations tied to the cultural and linguistic baggage of the listener or performer? To what extent do these associations vary? This paper first presents Dogora briefly and the circumstances surrounding its composition. I then describe Dogorian, including its sound system, phonotactics, 'lexis,' 'morphology' and 'syntax.' Using the results of a survey carried out among adults and children who sang Dogora (May 2008, Saint-Nazaire, France), I look next at the perception of this invented language and explore the multiple meanings that the work and the 'language' evoke. Finally, the interaction between the verbal and musical meanings of the piece is investigated.
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Andy Arleo. What Happens When an Invented Language Is Set To Music?: A Linguistic Study of Dogorian. Sandrine Sorlin. Inventive Linguistics, Presses Universitaires de la Méditerranée, pp.47-59, 2010, Sciences du langage. ⟨halshs-00623104⟩

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