Music (and Tonal Language) and the art of being human – III

Music (and Tonal Language) and the art of being human – III – Published 6 January 2011
o Felix ID Konotey-Ahulu, Dr Kwegyir Aggrey Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics University of Cape Coast Ghana

Consultant Physician Genetic Counsellor in Sickle Cell & Other Haemoglobinopathies 10 Harley St Lond
Dr John Matthews (Dec 11, p 1274) has shown that, contrary to popular perception, a doctor can have interests far beyond the consulting room. His most excellent review [1] of Philip Ball’s book covering music and the brain [2] deserves a 3-part response: Part I dealt with Music, the brain, and language. Part II tackled Origins and what it means to be human. Part III now suggests some meaningful research approaches.

MEANINGFUL RESEARCH APPROACHES
If Science is not equipped to determine how language originated, or how music inspires and gives balm to troubled minds, does that mean there cannot be meaningful research here? Not at all! What this means is that I should not spend my time investigating “how language evolved”, but rather relating what we already know in Music and Language, especially Tonal Linguistics, to what Dr Matthews indicates could be various brain responses through “functional magnetic resource imaging and positron emission tomography” [1], not to mention novel tools for probing the science of Glossogenetics.
Last year I discussed with Professor George Ebow Bonney and Professor Gloria Dunston of the Howard University National Human Genome Centre in Washington DC, USA, how an interdisciplinary project involving Tonal Linguistics, Music, Neurophysiology, History, Geography, Psychology, Anthropology, Glossogenetics, Genome Sequencing, Informatics, and even Egyptology [18] could be initiated. Professor Ayi Kwei Armah, the brilliant Ghanaian author and expert in Hieroglyphics has discovered that the ancient Egyptian name for parrot is “akoo” which is identical to what we call the bird in no less than 8 tribes in West Africa, from Yoruba land in Nigeria , right across to Ghana (Ewe, Krobo-Dangme-Ga, Twi, Fante) and up to Senegal [19]. We must research to find what other ancient Egyptian words are found in black African tribes. [18] Here is another interesting fact: Just the two letters ‘f’ and ‘a’ of the Ga alphabet can be used (with my sound colouring technique) to express reproducibly no less than 75 words, phrases, and sentences in the language, capable of being read by anyone who can sing Tonic Solfa [20]. The phenomenon of mid pitch arrest in Krobo-Dangme [3 4 6 18 20] and of lower mid pitch arrest in Ga [21] is not found in English, but I have discerned the former in Yoruba and in Kikuyu [20]. Research will reveal which other African tribes, or indeed ethnic groups world-wide display this phenomenon. How are they related genetically?
Is the Japanese genome related in any way to the Krobo genome because Nihongono phonates exactly like the Krobo-Dangme “e ji lolo” which means “she/he has not yet left”? When both are hummed, or sung, there is no acoustic difference whatever, and the Tonic Solfa of both is identical, s (low pitch) s (octave high) m m showing no difference between the Japanese and Krobo/Dangme intonations. [3 20]. Please try singing s (low) s (high) m (mid pitch) m (mid pitch) and you would have hummed Japanese and my native Krobo language. Any BMJ reader should be able to do this. It is that easy. These research projects in Linguistics/Tonal Linguistics could be as fruitful in shedding light on brain function, as those that Dr Matthews would like done in Music. If I phonated in my head (ie inaudibly) an arrested Krobo vowel in mid pitch (m) and then dropped 2 semitones to a Ga lower mid pitch vowel (r) would I be able to capture the vowels on a brain scan? Would it be possible to devise a “lie test” for interrogating a suspect who refused to answer questions, using a scan to detect silent tonal language sounds in the head? I can hum Tonic Solfa in my head, and arrest pitches at certain levels as I wish. In Krobo-Dangme the word ‘bo’ pronounced in mid pitch means cloth, but pronounced with low pitch means “to rub”. Will it be possible to record these pitches accurately even without phonating them aloud?
If, with Julie Andrews in “Sound of Music” [22], you can begin to sing “doe, a deer, a female deer…” you will, with the first note, have struck the invaluable 3rd mid pitch in Krobo/Dangme-Ga which, substituting a ‘y’ for Julie’s ‘d’, phonates exactly like the affirmative word “yes” in the language [20]. My colour for this 3rd mid pitch (d) which is also 2 semitones below lower mid pitch (r) is brilliant green [20]. When this particular pitch is arrested to sing Julie Andrews’ ‘doe’ (but with a ‘y’) the resulting word ‘yoe’ means ‘yes’ [20]. Which other tribes have a fixed, reproducible-in-tonic-solfa pitch for “yes”? Would the tribes be related genetically? The avenues for profitable research are protean [23]. Braille can be developed to discern pitch colour for the blind, and the coloured vowels for pitch are ideal for the deaf and tone-deaf. It can be truly said that my entire tribe has perfect pitch in more senses than one: anyone can go straight to a particular pitch in Tonic Solfa without reference to any preceding or succeeding note. Is this the reason why Aficans and African Americans are so musical?

CURRENT GENOME SEQUENCING CONSORTIUM AND LANGUAGE RESEARCH
The present on-going Human Genome Sequencing exercise which Professor George Bonney, Professor Gloria Dunston and I discussed last year [18] could be used to probe some of these aspects of language (and music), remembering at least 3 caveats:
(i) Researchers need to be careful not to miss the genomic wood for the DNA trees
(ii) Nature and nurture must be kept in perspective. There is what I call a quadrilateral interpretation of findings: (a) what is observed is due to nature (genes) alone (b) findings are the result of environment (nurture) alone (c) what you observe is due to both nature and nurture interaction (d) nature and nurture have little to do with the facts.
(iii) Avoid the mistake of deciding exactly what genome sequencing is going to reveal before the work is done [24]. To decide ahead that one tribe’s appreciation of music is more “civilised” than another is to make a serious mistake. This is why in African Anthropogenetics, with all the linguistic ramifications, to do genome sequencing anonymously as is happening now is not at all the right way forward. [25 26 27]

WONDER OF THE INTERNET
If you find all this difficult, take heart because youcan read, and see, and hear it all on line – free of charge. Fortunately, because of the internet anybody reading this can verify the truth of what I have been saying. One can read the colours of the sound pitches, and even phonate the Tonic Solfa of all 75 Ga words, phrases, and sentences formed with the letters ‘f’ and ‘a’ by just clicking http://bit.ly/bEdcc4. [20] One can also verify that the non-tonal English word “agriculture” which, though capable of being understood when pronounced entirely in monotones, nevertheless has 4 quantifiable pitches in Queen’s English; one is invited to down load the 42-page information with colour, free of charge. [20] Indeed, the internet allows me to demonstrate (vocally) to any reader of the BMJ what the Tonic Solfa of my Millennium Hymn [28] sounds like, and (visually) to see me in the flesh singing the hymn while the Tonic Solfa flashes on the screen. Readers may even see me piano-playing the Millennium Hymn all 7 verses of which appear on the screen by typing http://bit.ly/cRrZ0s [28]. As each of the verses ends with the word ” Bethlehem ” I take this opportunity to wish BMJ readers A HAPPY CHRISTMAS AND A HEALTHY NEW YEAR!
F I D KONOTEY-AHULU FGA MD(Lond) FRCP(Lond) FGCP DTMH(L’pool) FTWAS FAAS FWACP ORDER OF THE VOLTA GHANA felix@konotey-ahulu.com
18 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Global Genome Sequencing: Some Ethical Considerations. In Howard University National Human Genome Center Post- Inaugural Symposium on “1000 Genomes Project: On the Frontier of Personalized Medicine”. Washington , DC January 23 2009 http://bit.ly/gs65RD .
19 Armah Ayi Kwei. The Eloquence of the Scribes – a memoir on the sources and resources of African literature. PER ANKH 2006. Popenguine. Senegal (page 190)
20 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Tonic Solfa Is The Foundation Of Tonal Linguistics. DRUMSPEAK (Supplement) International Journal of Research in the Humanities. New Series Volume 3. No. 1, May 2010. Faculty of Arts, University of Cape Coast , Ghana . ISSN (0855-9945). [Lecture given on Monday 12 October 2009, University of Cape Coast in the Occasional Lecture Series during the 40th Congregation. [Publications Unit, University of Cape Coast, Ghana] http://www.bit.ly/bEdcc4 (Down load Free).
21 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Discoveries and New Insights into Tonal Linguistics Facilitate Reading of Mother Tongue: Introducing The Ephraim Amu Principle. The 10th Dr Ephraim Amu Memorial Lecture – Ghana Academy of Arts & Sciences at The British Council, Accra , 13th May 2010. [Report by Dr Doris Yaa Dartey: Ghanaian Times Friday 21 May 2010 “New insight into ‘Tonal Linguistics’ at the 10th Ephraim Amu Memorial Lecture in Accra by Dr [Konotey-Ahulu – ‘Colour the sounds to differentiate the pitches’ – Pregnant women need folic acid to prevent babies with cleft palate’ ]. Video is available.
22 Andrews Julie. The Sound of Music. Broadway Musical 1959. Film Musical 1965.
23 Konotey-Ahulu FID. The Human Genome Diversity Project: Cogitations of An African Native. Politics and the Life Sciences (PLS) USA 1999, Vol 18: No 2, pp 317-322. Symposium in PMID: 12561789 PubMed indexed for MEDLINE
24 Verkaik Robert. Revaled: Scientist who sparked racism row has black genes. The Independent, London , December 10, 2007.
25 Announcement: International Consortium Announces the 1000 Genomes Project. Major Sequences Effort Will Produce Most Detailed Map of Human Genetic Variation to Support Disease Studies. (Tuesday January 22, 2008). http://www.1000genomes.org/files/1000Genomes-NewsRelease.pdf
26 Wise Jaqui. Consortium hopes to sequence genome of 1000 volunteers. BMJ 2008; 336: 237, Feb. 2.
27 Konotey-Ahulu FID. There is but one human race. New African, London . Dec. 2009, page 4.
28 Konotey-Ahulu Felix ID. Millennium Hymn: Time Was Created. Words (7 verses) http://bit.ly/cRrZ0s
Competing interests: None declared
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Published 20 December 2010
3.
Music (and Tonal Language) and the art of being human – II
o Felix ID Konotey-Ahulu, Dr Kwegyir Aggrey Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics University of Cape Coast Ghana
Consultant Physician Genetic Counsellor in Sickle Cell & Other Haemoglobinopathies 10 Harley St Lond
Dr John Matthews (Dec 11, p 1274) has shown that, contrary to popular perception, a doctor can have interests far beyond the consulting room. His most excellent review [1] of Philip Ball’s book covering music and the brain [2] deserves a 3-part response: Part I dealt with Music, the brain, and language. Part II tackles Origins and what it means to be human. Part III suggests meaningful research approaches.

THE ART OF BEING HUMAN
A fundamental part of being human, as John Matthews and Philip Ball emphasize, is to have a brain that is capable of producing music and language. But as the nightingale also sings and the musical chatter of the black bird (Tardus merula) between April and September in the northern hemisphere is capable of being written down in Tonic Solfa as I have done annually in recent years, I can boldly say that producing language, even more than producing music, is the one most characteristic feature of being human. Animals, including birds, can make music, and communicate intelligently, but only human beings have language with all its five levels for communicating information, namely Statistics, Syntax, Semantics, Pragmatics, and Apobetics (thanks to the insight of such experts as Claude Shannon, Noam Chomsky, and Werner Gitt) [9-11]. This is why I have added in brackets “Tonal Language” to the title of Dr Matthews’ article which includes the term “being human”.

THE ORIGIN OF LANGUAGE
Dr Matthews states that “music could hardly be there by chance”. A greater truism is hard to find. He mentions “the perplexing problem of music’s origin” and goes on: “We do not know how or why music started, what the predisposing factors were, or even the form in which the earliest manifestations evolved.” [1] After looking for “a selection advantage” related to “community bonding” Dr Matthews concludes: “We are left surmising”. Well, I turn to 2 famous Nobel Laureates in Physiology/Medicine who, thinking scientifically, tackled the problem of “origins”. First, I turn to Sir Francis Crick (who better?). In a brilliant 13-page scientific exposition to crack “The origin of the genetic code”, Crick was out of his depth, and he admitted as much. [12] Like Dr Matthews, he was “left surmising” [1], so much so that 13 years later the great Francis Crick was constrained to write: “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle. …”. [13]. Wow! Francis Crick has used the word “miracle”?
The other Nobel Prize winner in Medicine/Physiology who discussed origins is my favourite thinker. Writing in his book “The Limits of Science” Professor Sir Peter Medawar makes a comment that goes a long way to shedding light on Dr Matthews’ “perplexing problem of music’s origin”. Professor Medawar states that questions of ultimate origins are “beyond the explanatory competence of science” [14, page xiii], and this: “That there is indeed a limit upon science is made very likely by the existence of questions that science cannot answer and that no conceivable advance of science would empower it to answer” [14, page 68]. So here is one genius, the DNA genius, describing the origin of life (and hence of language, and music) as a “miracle”, while the other Nobel genius says Science need not even bother tackling ultimate origins because Science does not only not have the equipment to probe ultimate origins, but also that it will never have that equipment. In the BMJ I once described as supra-scientific 4 clinical facts in my experience that Science could not explain. [15]. I place the origin of Language and Music in the same supra-scientific category. As I also said in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine earlier this year “Origin of the genetic code is supra-scientific” [16], it becomes clear that the origin of music and language must also be supra- scientific.

THE ART OF BEING HUMAN IS ITSELF SUPRA-SCIENTIFIC
There must be aspects of Dr Matthews’ fruitful work with patients and music that do not admit of scientific dissection. It is possible for me to imagine some of his grateful patients with severe arthritis saying “the pain is gone suddenly”, after listening to some moving music, such as the Bulgarian National Choir singing that amazingly magnificent Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves. I would find that just as scientifically inexplicable as the case of the middle aged accountant I once described in the BMJ who suddenly lost his right upper quadrant abdominal pain and the Murphy’s sign of cholelithiasis when he was told “the stone has disappeared”, while in fact the gall stone was later shown by ultrasound to be well and truly still in situ. [15] Music be it enchanting or cacophonous, is indeed the art of being human, which itself is also beyond Science. Furthermore, although “music and the brain” equates to “music and the psychological”, that is not the same as “music and the spiritual” because the spiritual connotes a greater dimension for what it means to be human – a dimension I once showed also in the BMJ [17] to be so different from the psychological that Science has no tools to fathom it.
F I D KONOTEY-AHULU FGA MD(Lond) FRCP(Lond) FGCP DTMH(L’pool) FTWAS FAAS FWACP ORDER OF THE VOLTA GHANA felix@konotey-ahulu.com
9 Shannon Claude E. The Mathematical Theory of Communication. University of Illinois Press 1949 ( Urbana II).
10 Chomsky Noam. Linguistic Contributions to the Study of Mind (Future). Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1968 http://bit.ly/egkZi1 “By pursuing the kind of research that now seems feasible we can acquire the highly specific way of interpreting phenomena that are in large measure beyond our consciousness and control and that may be unique to man”.
11 Gitt Werner. In the beginning was Information. Christliche Literatur-Verbretung e.V. Postfach 110135.33661 Bielefeld, Germany, 2001. [Professor Werner Gitt coined the word ‘apobetics’ to illustrate the highest of the 5 levels of communication in humans]
12 Crick FHC. The origin of the genetic code. J Mol. Biology 1968: 38: 367-379.
13 Crick FHC. Life itself: its nature and origin. Simon and Schuster, New York 1981, p 88.
14 Medawar Peter. The Limits of Science. Oxford . Oxford University Press, 1985.
15 Konotey-Ahulu FID. The supra-scientific in clinical medicine: a challenge for Professor Know-All. BMJ 2001; 323(7327): 1452-1453 (22-29 Dec). http://www.bmj.com/cgi/reprint/323/7327/1452.pdf doi:10.1136/bmj.323.7327.1452
16 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Origin of the genetic code is suprascientific. JRSM March 15 2010 http://www.sicklecell.md/blog/?p=46 Response to James Le Fanu “The disappointments of the Double Helix” Feb 2010.
17 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Personal View: The spiritual and the psychological in Clinical Medicine. BMJ 1977; 1: 1595. (June 15) doi:10.1136/bmj.1.6076.1595 http://www.bmj.com/content//1/6076/1595.full.pdf
Competing interests: None declared
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Published 20 December 2010
4.

Music (and Tonal Language) and the art of being human – I
o Felix ID Konotey-Ahulu, Dr Kwegyir Aggrey Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics University of Cape Coast , Ghana
Consultant Physician Genetic Counsellor in Sickle Cell & Other Haemoglobinopathies 10 Harley St Lond
Dr John Matthews (Dec 11, p 1274) has shown that, contrary to popular perception, a doctor can have interests far beyond the consulting room. His most excellent review [1] of Philip Ball’s book covering music and the brain [2] deserves a 3-part response: Part I deals with Music, the brain, and language. Part II tackles Origins and what it means to be human. Part III suggests meaningful research approaches.

MUSIC AND THE BRAIN
Dr John Matthews is right in stating “Music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other intellectual activity.” [1], and that these parts “are shared with other activities, such as language..”, especially, in my opinion, Tonal Language. I have proven that my Ghanaian language Krobo/Dangme-Ga can be read like music [3-5], and that the best way to evaluate Tonal Language is not through the piano, flute, violin, or organ but with Tonic Solfa.

TONIC SOLFA, TONAL LANGUAGE, AND THE BRAIN
Tonic Solfa is an extraordinary musical phenomenon. It was invented by Guido Arezzo, a musically talented monk who was born in 991 AD. Tonic Solfa was taught to my ancestors by the Swiss-German Basel missionaries who went to our tribe in 1828. When the British Colonial Government of the Gold Coast ( Ghana ) deported them during the First World War, Scottish Presbyterians took over the work, and continued teaching every pupil how to sing in Tonic Solfa. That was how I came to learn Tonic Solfa the marvel of which is that whereas any piece of music can be played recognisably in all the 12 keys of the piano there is just one way a particular piece of music can be sung in Tonic Solfa. [3-5] For example, the British national anthem “God save the Queen” can be played in 12 different keys (though traditionally Key G major ie F sharp is used), but the brain is so programmed that there is just one way it can be sung in Tonic Solfa: doe doe re ti doe re mi mi fa mi re doe re doe ti doe (d d r t: d r m m f m: r d r d t d). Similarly, my Mother Tongue can be phonated in Tonic Solfa one way only. Every vowel (without prolonging it) has at least 4 different ways of pronouncing it, giving 4 different meanings to the same consonant [3-5]. As nasalisation (quality) of the vowel at each pitch gives the word a different meaning, one can find that the word written ta (without prolonging the ‘a’) can mean, as I pointed out in the Lancet, chew, palm tree, war, giant ant, narrate, and fish out [6]. The brain of a Krobo child is capable of distinguishing the 6 different meanings of that word ta [6], a feat that defeats many a European expert in Linguistics. .

HUMAN SPEAKING VOICE SPANS AN OCTAVE
I have proven before that the normal speaking human voice spans an octave. One can say everything one wants to say (at least in Tonal Linguistics) using just an octave. Starting from d and going through the d r m scale to the next d is traversing an octave. Filling in the pitches between the 12 keys on the piano one can discern d de r ma me f fe s se la ta t d [13 keys], the space between each key is a semi-tone.[3 4 7] Using one particular phrase in The Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s Messiah “For The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth” I have shown that the brilliant octaves that Handel introduced in that short phrase reflect exactly the octaves not only in tribal linguistics, but also in spoken English! [3 4 7] Just pronounce the English word “agriculture” (slowly) in Queen;s English. My African ear automatically discerns 4 pitches, a high pitch (‘a’), a low pitch (‘ture’), a mid pitch just below high pitch (‘gri’), and a lower mid pitch (‘cul’). These are fixed pitches that can be characterised as follows: high pitch is an octave above low pitch (just as Handel’s ‘God Om..’ is an octave), mid pitch is exactly 3 semitones below high pitch, and lower mid pitch is exactly 2 semitones below mid pitch.[3 4 7] This information is not in Professor David Crystal’s impressive 484-page book ‘THE CAMBRIDGE ENCYCLOPOEDIA OF LANGUAFGE’ [8]. The brain that is capable of recognising these pitch differences in order to discern one accent from another in the same language, or to distinguish one language from another, or to appreciate one piece of music more than another is remarkable to say the least. To facilitate appreciation of these pitch differences so that written text is correctly readable in Tonal Linguistics I decided to colour them to help even illiterates read their tribal language more easily than when the missionaries wrote them. [4 7]

COLOURING SOUND
I colour high pitch red. Using Key C major for convenience, high pitch corresponds to s or G above middle C, and mid pitch which is 3 semitones below high pitch, I make green, and becomes m or E above middle C. Lower mid pitch then becomes r ie 2 semitones below mid pitch (lime green), before descending to the low pitch s (G below middle C, ie an octave below the high pitch s), which I make blue. [4 7]. Anybody can be taught to pronounce “Agriculture” in Queen’s English by just associating the colours of the 4 vowels with the pitches. I have done the same with Japanese. [4 7] The pronunciation of “Japanese” in Japanese is Nihongono (‘Ni’ low pitch blue, ‘ho’ high pitch red, ‘ngo’ mid pitch green, ‘no’ mid pitch green) – see references 4 and 7 on line for a visual appreciation of these novel approaches to Tonal Linguistics.
F I D KONOTEY-AHULU FGA MD(Lond) FRCP(Lond) FGCP DTMH(L’pool) FTWAS FAAS FWACP ORDER OF THE VOLTA GHANA felix@konotey-ahulu.com
1 Matthews John A. Music and the art of being human. BMJ 2010; 341:c6965 http://www.b,j.com/content/341/bmj.c6965
2 Ball Phillip. The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It. Bodley Head, pp 464. ISBN: 978-1847920881
3 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Mother Tongue: The Tadka Phonation Technique for speaking an African Tonal Language – Krobo/Dangme/G? of South-East Ghana . Watford 2001, UK . ISBN 0-9515442-4-1. [To facilitate tribal health education in the Mother Tongue]
4 Konotey-Ahulu FID. The Remarkable African Ear: Phenomenon of Mid Pitch Arrest in Krobo-Dangme-G? Tonal Linguistics of South East Ghana . African American Museum of Philadelphia Award Lecture May 5 2007 http://bit.ly/i5APah
5 Konotey-Ahulu FID. How To Avoid Losing Our Mother Tongue. Substance of Lecture given at the British Council Accra November 2007 for Ghana @50. Ghana Academy of Arts & Sciences – President Dr Letitia Obeng President chairing. Guest of Honour Nene Sakite II, Konor of Manya Krobo, – honours Professor Felix I Domeno Konotey-Ahulu with Citation Plaque of Klo Hingmer (Eye of Krobo). http://www.modernghana.com/GhanaHome/NewsArchive/news_details.asp
6 . Konotey-Ahulu FID. Black people’s red faces and AIDS prevention. Lancet 2000; 355(9214):1559. PMID: 10801206 [PubMed-indexed for MEDLINE]
7 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Social pathology of Cleft Palate in The African: Mathematical Precision of Pitch Gaps in Tribal Tonal Linguistics. Ghana Medical Journal 2008; 42: 89-91. (June 2008). PMID: 19180210 http://bit.ly/f8dVG3
8 Crystal David. THE CAMBRIDGE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF LANGUAGE. Cambridge University Press. Second Edition, 1997.
Competing interests: None declared

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