Language + Pitch

02021-11-10 | Uncategorized | 2 comments

After I wrote that last post about language and gender I thought about how language not only shapes how we think but actually shapes who we are. They say babies make every kind of possible sound and only when they learn one particular language do they forget the sounds they no longer need.

Speaking a language changes the pitch of your vocal cords. Listen to a woman speaking Arabic, then to a woman speaking Japanese. The Arabic speaker’s voice will always be lower, the Japanese speaker’s voice will be higher.

In 2009 I did solo concerts is Europe and when I played in Germany, I spoke to the audience in German, of course. Jon Gagan traveled with me and engineered the sound in every venue. One day he asked me whether I knew that my German voice was pitched lower than my English voice. At first I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. It was definitely NOT something I was aware of or did knowingly. I started to pay attention and noticed that he was right. I like the pitch of my German voice better, but it is quite difficult to maintain it when I speak English.


  1. JaneParhamKatz

    I have observed that the language of a country influences the music, as well as the musicians. Why was opera born in Italy? Why are there so many fabulous Italian opera singers? Well, they speak a language of lightweight vowels and strong consonants that contribute to that soaring, lush singing sound. I think the rhythm of spoken Italian is super energetic and musical. The Italian composers have given us so many gorgeous operas, luscious Neopolitan songs, and even instrumental music. The Italian painters and sculptors are also powerful and passionate. Language might even influence the cuisine!

    Different but equally magnificent is Spanish-speaking countries’ music, of course as you know. The flamenco – how spectacular is that – and all the South American music forms are so passionate and energetic – like the Spanish language. It is akin to the Italian language in many ways.

    Then there is France. I happen to love the French language, music, art, literature. But French is a delicate language, like walking on eggshells, and so is the music and the art. Think of the Impressionist paintings – shimmering, full of light, mystical. The piano music (Debussy, and others – I include Chopin as he made his home in France), and the French pianists are similarly magical – Helene Grimaud, Jean-Yves Thibaudet. But the singers are also light – doing well with high, fast moving lines. Not so well with heavier stuff.

    Then German, with the wonderful strong, guttural feeling. (I’m nervous to discuss this with you, Ottmar.) But the most fabulous orchestral, piano and vocal music (much different from Italy) comes from Germany. Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Wagner – nothing can compare. Rich, rich, rich!

    What’s the matter with English? Not much interesting music or musicians. And the Asian languages – a whole nother story. I don’t know. I always wanted to deeply study linguistics, but never took the time. Would be fun to make a real scientific study of how language shapes everything. I must look up what has been written – plenty, I’m sure.

  2. JaneParhamKatz

    PS. I have always loved making all kinds of fun sounds; I’ll never stop.


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