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The Generativity of Solresol | Communication Technology & Society

Spring 2009 -- CMN 280, Prof. Sandvig
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The Generativity of Solresol

I. For this assignment, I chose to analyze the Solresol musical language invented by François Sudre. This language is documented in the reading Solresol, The Universal Musical Language by Paul Collins.

Leverage: According to Zittrain, a technology has leverage if it “makes a difficult job easier” (p. 71). Arguments for the leverage of Solresol can be made both ways. On one hand, Solresol has the ability to eliminate the barriers of language because the sound of musical notes is universal. In addition, Sudre eradicated many synonyms from Solresol that were otherwise present in other languages, making speaking less ambiguous. On the other hand, some people may claim that they do not interact with people who speak other languages too often. Thus, the efforts to make a lingua franca out of universal musical sounds would be pointless to some societies.
Adaptability: Adaptability “refers to how easily the system can be built on or modified to broaden its range of uses” (p. 71). Inherently, languages are adaptable. A language’s words that were standards in one society can be changed to better satisfy the culture of another society. However, Solresol is not very adaptable. Because the language is based on the diatonic musical scale, there are only 11,732 possible words. Hence, not only are there a limited amount of words, but adapting them would defeat the purpose of the language’s goal of creating a universal language. While Sudre made some subtle improvements to the language (such as relating it to the colors of the spectrum), this was not easily learned by the people.
Ease of Mastery: Ease of mastery refers to the difficulty involved in using a technology. Accordingly, Solresol is not very easy to master. Not only does it require the skill of playing a musical instrument, but it also requires the memorization of a complex system of notes that were not previously persistent in society. Solresol’s complexity was a chief factor in its ultimate demise.
Accessibility: Accessibility refers to the ease of obtaining access to a certain technology. Speaking Solresol with someone else requires access to a musical instrument. The high cost of musical instruments prohibits many people from even starting to learn the basics of learning the language. Thus, Solresol is not a very accessible technology.
Transferability: Transferability “indicates how easily changes in the technology can be conveyed to others” (p. 73). While there are certainly standards that exist within the Solresol language, changes to these standards would essentially require users to re-learn the language. Thus, the language’s transferability is poor.

III. As a rule, I think communication technologies are becoming more generative. This is precipitated by the ubiquity of the Internet, and how much access society has with different people and different ideas around the world. As Zittrain puts, generative systems “fill a crucial gap that is created when innovation is undertaken only in a profit-making model” (p. 84). This is evidenced by the success of recent freely-open and user-created technologies. Generative inventions such as Wikipedia and Mozilla Firefox have enjoyed success over respective competitors Encyclopædia Britannica and Internet Explorer. While the future of generativity remains a mystery, it seems to be increasing in the present day.

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