Meanings in sound
Michael Rosen’s Word of Mouth programme on BBC Radio 4 was a discussion on the creation of language with David J. Peterson, the creator of two languages for the television series The Game of Thrones.
Damon, a friend in schooldays, could not have coped with the idea of someone creating a complete language, Damon could not even cope with the language of pop songs.
It was Tina Charles’ song, I love to love that seemed to be the step too far for Damon. We only shared a room for half a term at the end of his time at the school, perhaps there had been an accumulation of annoying lyrics and Ms Charles’ song, which was a Number One hit in Britain and across Europe, was the straw that broke the camel’s back, or slid the needle across the turntable.
“The minute the band begins to swing it. He’s on his feet to dig it,” went the record at 45 rpm on the school record player, and he would put his hand in his hair in exasperation.
“Swing it, dig it. Those words don’t mean anything.”
There would have been no point in trying to explain that they were well-known slang, and had been for a long time, as far as my fifteen year old self knew. Nor would there have been a point in trying to suggest that Tina Charles’ lyrics were very clear and very plain English when they were compared with those of many other artists.
If Tina Charles lyrics were slang, there were Abba songs from the same era that were complete gibberish. Abba songs are generally very clearly expressed, but Bang-a-boomerang must have been the Abba song most notable for nonsensical lines:
Like a bang, a boom-a-boomerang
Oh bang, a boom-a-boomerang
Love is a tune you hum-de-hum-hum
Does it really matter, though? Meanings can be conveyed in ways other than plain words
For centuries, there have been many songs with meanings that were oblique, if not outright nonsense. The object of music has always been more about sound than about content. There must be millions of non-English speakers around the world who will listen to the Abba songs without feeling any need to understand the words being sung. There must be millions who watch The Game of Thrones and who hear the sound of words spoken in Dothraki and understand their meaning without feeling that the characters should speak English.
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