Generative Musical Grammar: A Minimalist Approach


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




As an undeniably cultural artifact, music has been subject to humanistic inquiry for centuries. How does this square with the equally ancient, yet conflicting, fascination with music as a scientific object, which has yielded important insights into the physics of musical sound and, more recently, the biology and evolution of musical behavior? This dissertation develops a cognitive, theoretical answer to this question by considering similar issues in language research, specifically ideas from the Minimalist Program in generative linguistics. In particular, it focuses on the unique, innate ability of the human mind to compute grammar and create meaning in both language and music, and argues from this that the musical mind has a peculiar biology that optimally suits it to its various aesthetic functions. This, in turn, helps address certain cultural concerns in music, such as its cross-stylistic variation, and helps tackle certain philosophical puzzles about musical knowledge, expression, and beauty.