Song as a measure of culture

Folk Song Style and Culture American Association for the Advancement of Science Washington, D.C. Published In Pages: 117-169
By Lomax, Alan


This chapter explores the relationship between cultural complexity and song. Several measures of cultural complexity are correlated with different aspects of singing. All hypotheses are supported.


Sample Used Coded Data Comment
Ethnographic Reports
Ethnographic Atlas (EA)

Hypotheses (11)

". . . as far as songs are concerned, there is a distinct [positive] relationship between [social complexity, and] explicitness, the number of consonantal distinctions used, and the location of these distinctions in the mid- and front-enunciatory regions" (146).Supported
Social complexity is positively associated with the following characteristics of song styles: wordiness, precision of articulation, explicitness, and narrow melodic intervals (128-137).Supported
"The incidence of orchestral unison and one beat orchestral rhythm decreases with complexity. . . . The two most complex forms of organization of orchestral rhythm, counterpoint and heterophony [are] strongly associated with complex modes of production" (138, 139).Supported
"There is a strong relationship between increase of layering [social stratification] and elaboration in song style" (153).Supported
"Mean number of instrument types per style sample appears as a correlate of social stratification" (155).Supported
Interlocking, a maximally individualized and leaderless style [in which everyone present sings independently in melody, rhythm, and harmony] occurs most frequently among cultures dependent on collecting (156).Supported
"Simple alternation [between singing chorus and leader] . . . almost always indicates the presence of at least one or two levels of extra-local political control" (158).Supported
"Overlap [between singing chorus and leader] is especially marked at the middle levels [of subsistence] whereas . . . explicit solo maintains a steady increase across the [subsistence] scale" (159).Supported
"The five levels of performance style relate to [a] scale of increasingly complex governmental types in a remarkably stepwise way" (159-160).Supported
"Multi-parted and counterpoint rhythmic organization [of chorus] assume importance only in societies where women are major contributors to subsistence" (165)Supported
"Tonal cohesiveness and tonal relaxation . . . [and] polyphony in female choruses rise in direct proportion to the degree of feminine involvement in subsistence labor" (167-168)Supported

Documents and Hypotheses Filed By:mas Megan Farrer