How do we hear words?

It’s in the nature of words to have meaning. We don’t communicate ‘words’ but what they mean. Some words seem to have a ‘core’ meaning, others take their meaning from their contexts. And that’s really it. Or is it?

After watching Montalbano, I asked my partner to tell me the story. She did and then wanted to know where I was while watching. I must have been absorbed in the very ‘music’ of the words, Italian is such a beautifully musical language, so I missed the plot.

To me watching Montalbano is like being at the last night of the Proms, the playfulness, the razzle-dazzle, the drama, noise and laughter and, of course, the music. The music! Yes, I was there for the music. I watched and listened to a symphony, every actor a different instrument, real, romantic, fleeting like musical chords carrying me on waves of exquisite feelings. No time for subtitles, no time for story line and plot.

I was a child again. What can children hear – words? I can’t remember hearing any words. In fact, I’ve had to ask someone else to tell me the story of my childhood. There were words I apparently took more of a liking to than others. And that was it. So what did I hear? I did hear words, but only as sounds, as music. A symphony around me.

Out of all this life-music grew words, their meaning and their usage. Sole dictionary words flew into my soul as living beings, with all other sounds that gave me meaning. Even now, when I learn a new language, it’s always the music that wakes up the dictionary words from their hundred years’ sleep. Before I try to remember their meaning or study grammar, I ‘sing’ the music of the language first. Was I a Welshman in my last life?

Welsh! I don’t know what it is, but learn Welsh I must. I sit with my tutor, a lady from North Wales. She talks and reads Welsh and I repeat it. I don’t know or remember a word that comes out of my mouth, but I love listening, hearing, ‘feeling’ my way into the music of the language, a tonal delight. Then, without me noticing, the words begin to settle into my memory, with their meaning in tow and I feel as if the music I hear is an act of love, a union.

I often talk to my mother in Germany on the phone, for up to an hour and my partner asks what we were talking about. I can never remember. All I feel is it was wonderful ‘being with’ my mother. The lexical meaning of the words didn’t seem to matter. It was a nearness with each other just through the music of our words, our voices.

Every language has a musical body and soul. If we hear the words of a language like musical notes, freed from their score yet fading away as they’re played, we are alive and hear what people feel, not what they say they feel. There’s nearness, soul affinity, which people sense and which makes them say they like being with us but don’t know why.

But is it just me? I’m not one for small-talk or social chit-chat. I’m not sure if I would fit into the ‘chattering classes’ very easily. I like to play my tune with words one-to-one. Noise from crowds reminds me of instruments warming up before they play. However, speaking to one person from the crowd makes musical word-sense to me.

I wonder if we don’t let ourselves enjoy or even wallow in the ‘music’ of language, because it’s safer to live in the careful, ordered world of dictionary and lexical meanings.