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Not so fast: Speed-related conceptsin Chinese music and beyond


Adrian Tien
Published Online: 2016-09-13 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/glochi-2016-0008


While speed as a sonic and musical experience may be a universal phenomenon, concepts referring to kinds of speed are language-specific and culture-dependent. This paper focuses on the notion of speed in Chinese and concepts associated with speed in Chinese, especially in relation to music. Five speed-related concepts in Chinese are subjected to scrutiny: kuai, ji, su, man and huan. These concepts are scrutinised in traditional musical, contemporary musical and general contemporary contexts. The musical genres in which these concepts present themselves are the music of guqin (a seven-stringed zither) and Peking Opera. Semantic analyses adopting the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) approach are utilised in order to explicate these concepts.

Preliminary findings demonstrate that, unlike in some other musical traditions in which one might expect the capacity to play at markedly contrastive speeds in a musical performance to be aesthetically desirable or even essential, as the meanings of the speed-related concepts in Chinese reveal, the ability to play fast is not necessarily aesthetically praiseworthy in at least traditional Chinese music, nor is speed necessarily a major consideration as one executes speed in a Chinese musical interpretation.


纵然声音与音乐中存在的速度是一种普遍性的现象, 指称速度的一些概念却是极具语言特定性与文化独特性的。此篇文章探讨中国语言里所反映对速度此现象的文化观与存在着的速度概念,尤其是与音乐相关的一些速度概念。我们调查了快、急、速、慢、缓这五个速度概念出现在传统音乐、现代音乐与一般现代语境的语言状况。为此,我们藉用了古琴(五弦琴)音乐与京剧来作为我们专注研究的音乐类型。之后,我们使用了自然语义原语言 (NSM) 分析了这五个速度概念的语义。


Keywords: Chinese musical concepts; Chinese language and culture; semantics and cognition; Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM); music-language interface

关键词: 中国音乐概念; 中国语言与文化; 语义与认知; 自然语义原语言 (NSM); 音乐与语言之相互关联


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About the article

Published Online: 2016-09-13

Published in Print: 2016-09-01

Citation Information: Global Chinese, Volume 2, Issue 2, Pages 189–211, ISSN (Online) 2199-4382, ISSN (Print) 2199-4374, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/glochi-2016-0008.

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