When words stop : omission in songs

Fabb, Nigel; Ahrens, Rüdiger and Klaeger, Florian and Stierstorfer, Klaus, eds. (2022) When words stop : omission in songs. In: Symbolism. Symbolism: An International Annual of Critical Aesthetics, 22 . De Gruyter, Berlin, pp. 33-48. ISBN 9783110756456 (https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110775884-toc)

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The song "The Royal Scam," by Steely Dan, alternates lines of text with instrumental sections which are longer than the textual lines. The song thus follows a pattern of repeated and noticeably long textual omissions. The paper discusses various types of omission in song, and how music without words can produce emotional effects and meaning. Meaning in music and songs can be generated by the pragmatic processes described in relevance theory, as well as by a source-based semantics (Schlenker 2019) and by the manipulation of expectation (Huron 2006). The paper concludes by drawing on these various ways of producing meaning, to explore how meaning arises from the extended periods of textual omission in this song, arguing that one of the basic types of response is an epistemic feeling of knowing something which feels significant, without being able to specify what is known.