[Smt-talk] Geno- and phenotype musical structures

Nicolas Meeùs nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr
Mon Jan 14 02:53:22 PST 2013

The concepts of genotype and phenotype can be understood in many 
contexts. Shaumyan's /Semiotic Theory of Language/, so far as I 
understand it, is purely semiotic and does not engage biological or 
other cognitive aspects. It is mainly about language and grammar, which 
in this case is not a metaphor. The analogy between Shaumyan's 
"Applicative Universal Grammar" and Chomsky's generative grammar may be 
closer, but Chomsky is less concerned with semiotics properly speaking, 
i.e. with sign functions. Shaumyan's book specifically adresses this 

Shaumyan's genotype grammar has something in common with LOT, the 
Language Of Thoughts, the "mentalese" (as does Chomsky's generative 
grammar). It describes the universal aspect of language, it claims to be 
the grammar of what is common to all languages, and it produces a 
"grammatical meaning". Phenotype grammar, on the other hand, is 
syntagmatic and lexical; it produces a "lexical meaning" and of course 
belongs to specified individual languages. Shaumyan claims that a phrase 
like /Colourless green ideas sleep furiously/ may lack a lexical 
meaning, but keeps a grammatical meaning that Chomsky failed to 
identify. But semiotic theory is not our main concern here.

I do not think it particularly enlightening to consider Sets as 
genotypes and their realization as phenotypes, unless one were to admit 
Set theory as a universal of musical language (which I doubt it is). 
What Serge Lacasse has in mind seems to me rather of the order of the 
type-token (or type-occurrence) opposition. All the more so that a type 
is sometimes defined as the set of its tokens.
     It may be interesting to note that an /Ursatz/ also is a type, an 
that its relation to its tokens is /semper idem sed non eodem modo/. And 
the work contained in a score again is a type, of which the performances 
are tokens.
     This both shows the richness of the idea of token-type, and its 
lack of precise definition.

Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne

Le 13/01/2013 00:22, Joseph Dubiel a écrit :
> [...] Prof Dora Hanninen has made excellent use of the concepts of 
> genotype and phenotype in her work for some years now, and has just 
> published A Theory of Musical Analysis with the University of 
> Rochester Press. Among many virtues of this work is that it engages 
> the biological concepts without the encumbrance of the metaphor of 
> grammar.
> On Jan 12, 2013, at 11:43 AM, Serge Lacasse wrote:
>> [...]I would like to have your opinion (that has most probably 
>> already been proposed) on a possible analogy. Reading Sebastian 
>> Sumjan's linguistic grammar theory (itself derived from Bateson's 
>> genetic model, see below), I was wondering if one could draw an 
>> analogy between his geno-/phenotype grammars and Set Theory.

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