Songs are compact, authentic, burgeoning with cultural and linguistic information. Because they are situated in the social, cultural, economic and political discourse of their language communities, when we embed them in a contextualizing and interdisciplinary network of texts, they have the potential to rapidly and effectively bring students into this discourse and engage them with a range and variety of cultural voices. Because of their "stickiness" or memorability, songs may be easily internalized, providing grammatical-syntactic models for language production; because of the lack of visual cues (unlike film), songs are conducive to a precision focus on discrete forms often missed in running speech because of their lack of saliency to learners. Equally important, songs, when properly scaffolded through learning tasks and placed within “webs of significance” via rich contextualizing material (paintings, historical documents, newspaper articles, poems and literature excerpts, interview or broadcast segments, etc.), become a lens to view the target culture from many angles and in many layers.
In addition to developing students’ linguistic skills and specific cultural knowledge, we believe these materials will help students gain an understanding of the discursive nature of cultural texts, which we have defined in terms of seven Cs: Context, Condition, Chorus, Conflict, Connotation, Continuity, and Comparison.
The seven Cs
Vicki Galloway and Stuart Goldberg
- A knowledge of the song’s generating CONTEXT; that is, its time and place in the world, its sociohistorical backdrop or political climate;
- A sense of CONDITION; that is, some understanding of the situation(s), issues and agendas that birthed the song within this context (nostalgia, angst, playfulness, protest);
- An identification of CHORUS; that is, the heterogeneous voices evoked by the performance of a song in its original cultural context. These often-overlapping voices include the “authorial” voices of composer and lyricist, the narrative voice(s) projected by the text, the variegated voices of the song’s original historically- and culturally-situated audience(s), both actual and implied, all of whom are subsumed into the sonorous voice of the singer.
- A recognition of the nodes of CONFLICT through which these voices at times express themselves; that is, the culture’s tension points where potentially competing values, perspectives, visions internal to the culture clash and, ultimately, generate the seeds of culture change;
- An understanding of CONNOTATION; that is, the impact of factors such as the aforementioned on giving in-group meaning to words, the sense of a word that cannot be found in a dictionary query. The notion of connotation includes silence as well as sound, the pause as well as the utterance, particularly in the case of high-context cultures (Edward T. Hall);
- An appreciation for the role of song in constructing and sustaining CONTINUITY of community identity and group cohesion; that is, the personal associations and emotional content that define communities of collective knowledge and experience within the target culture and demonstrate the diversity of overlapping identities and allegiances in society;
- The ability to make non-judgmental and contextualized COMPARISON of perspectives and their practices both within and between cultures. Students should be guided to see how the views expressed in a particular song relate to the views of other groups (of age, nationality, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, etc) or of other eras.
In addition, aspects of style, such as instrumentation, vocal timbre, pitch (melody, harmony, register), rhythm and compositional form expose cultural traditions that may have deep historical and/or spiritual significance, while cultural/musical fusions illustrate the porosity of borders and the impact of itinerant and immigrant voices. It is the goal of our course modules to organize this cultural knowledge as it relates to a carefully chosen corpus of songs and to scaffold student exploration of and engagement in song through listening, reading, writing and speaking tasks, for the purpose of stimulating linguistic awareness, growing communicative precision, and generating expanding tracts of dense cultural knowledge.
The Critical Languages Song Project thus employs an interdisciplinary approach that merges culture, content and language in a learner-centered environment of the type specifically called for by the ACTFL Standards for Foreign Language Learning.