Multilingualism and musical practices: Singing in “other” languages

Fernández-Toro, Maria (2019). Multilingualism and musical practices: Singing in “other” languages. In: BAAL Multilingualism SIG Inaugural event, 8 Jul 2019, London.


Just like plurilingual speakers, musicians draw on their semiotic repertoire in order to express and interpret meanings and construct their identities. This work repositions multilingualism in relation to emerging theories of multi-musicalism within a social theory paradigm. In this new perspective, musilingual practices are defined as practices involving the productive, receptive or mediating engagement with music and one or more languages. In the illustrative study reported here, singers from a UK community choir were presented with a Christmas carol from Venezuela. To make the piece accessible and engaging for the singers, a number of mediation strategies were employed by the choir director and the song arranger, such as partial translation of the lyrics, musical transcription, language choice in choral and solo parts, and song teaching strategies. It is therefore an example of musilingual mediation. A survey (N=45) conducted six months after the performance showed that mediation was moderately effective in rising the singers’ intercultural awareness. This example of translingual mediation practices in music represents only one of several promising directions that he new concept of musilingual practices opens up across the disciplinary boundaries of applied linguistics and musicology. Some of these are briefly outlined here.

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