Now that I’m in my fifth year studying music in graduate school—having recently been entrusted, moreover, with the sculpting of neophyte musicians—it’s not so easy for me to remember when it was all new. I don’t mean music itself; it’s sort of impossible for me to remember not having music in my life in some capacity or other. Rather, I mean music scholarship, all the way from the AP theory test to Feminine Endings. I feel at home in these waters today, but my first few teaching experiences have been a great reminder that there’s a first dive for everyone.
More recently, however, I’ve started to develop an amateur’s interest in linguistics, a social science that turns out to have very little in common with music. I’m diving in, but this time I have one of those old-timey brass helmets with the glass front on, so to speak: I know, more or less, how the academy works, and the vagaries of scholarship are familiar to me, so I’ve got a leg up on 17-year-old Colin. (My complexion is also a lot better than his, but that’s neither here nor there.)
The funny thing about studying linguistics after years of focusing almost entirely on music is that it was very quickly clear to me that one hand isn’t always talking to the other in that field: Texts present different definitions for the same term, warring researchers defend competing theories, and the ideas that one scholar presents without disclaimer are condemned as hopelessly out-of-date by the next. Naturally, music is just the same—but these contradictions are so ordinary to a longtime music student that they hardly merit comment. It really bothers me when two linguists use the same term for different phenomena: I’m trying to learn here, guys! Terminological discrepancies are one thing, but I’m beginning to sense that linguistics is an area of inquiry fraught, like many, with deeper rifts and apparent antinomies. I doubt that I’ll ever reach the same comfort level with linguistics scholarship that I have in music, but it would be great to get to the point where my brain can reconcile some of these contradictions. Reconciling contradictions is an important 21st-century life skill, after all.