Music and Language Revitalization

Music can takes us to exotic locales, different time periods, and acquaint us with foreign cultures. Art by Aeon Lux.


Hello Linguist Listers,

Previously my fellow colleagues wrote about Language Revitalization in the context of modern-day technologies and cinema. These are both powerful methodologies for galvanizing interest in foreign languages and subsequently assisting with language revitalization efforts. Today I would like to talk about language revitalization in the context of one more medium and that is music. As we all know music is one of the most powerful tools for evoking emotion in our fellow humans. From rousing classical symphonies like Beethoven’s 5th to more ambient, future-oriented electronic pieces, music can evoke, not only a wide range of emotions, but also specific times and places in the minds of listeners. These qualities make music a perfect vehicle for expressing oneself and also a great way of expressing one’s language and culture. As a matter of fact, music is so good at this that it has already shown results in sparking interest in foreign languages. “A desire to learn the lyrics of K-Pop hits like Gangnam Style has boosted the Korean language’s popularity in countries like the US, Canada, Thailand and Malaysia” reads the opening line of an article from the BBC. This article details the increase in interest in the Korean language as it has grown in recent years. It is true that Korean is not an endangered language but this is an example of the kinds of media that help to get people interested in languages and the cultures that they are tied to.

One more example of this is the current most-played song in the history of YouTube which is Despacito by Luis Fonsi. Its lyrics are written completely in Spanish and it is not just the most-played song on YouTube but it is also currently the most viewed YouTube video of all time. Period. I did not find articles detailing the impact of this song on Spanish language learning in my quick search but I suspect that it has a similar effect to what we see with Korean and K-pop music. To speak momentarily from personal experience, I have always had a latent interest in the Japanese language. This interest was almost undoubtedly sparked by my early exposure to anime which is a form of Japanese animation that has gained a large following in the West. When I was a child, my Father would watch the shows with my younger brother and I and we always thoroughly enjoyed the opening and ending themes to the shows. These musical pieces were frequently sung in Japanese and over time I began to enjoy the songs in their own right. The tools to learn Japanese were not quite as easily available at the time but, as my colleague mentioned, the technology of today is central to language learning and it has allowed me to indulge my interest in the language (when I have free time, which is a rare occurrence lol).

Example of the Anime Art Style

All-in-all, I believe that music and other art forms offer a powerful method for exposing people to foreign cultures and languages and that we should leverage these as much as we can in order to prop up, protect, and revitalize as many endangered languages as possible. These languages are disappearing at an alarming rate and this is just one of the many ways in which we can promote linguistic and cultural diversity in a world that definitely needs it.

Thanks so much for reading our blog and keep doing great work!


Everett G.

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