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Duality of Letters/Musical Tones

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Duality of Letters/Musical Tones

!- Duality of Letters—Voiced and Unvoiced
Phonetic analysis implicitly recognizes a number of phonetic features that distinguish broad classes of elements. For example, consonants fall into two major classes: those that are voiced, and those that are voiceless. This in turn implies a binary distinctive feature. Many phonological distinctions are naturally binary, in the sense that some physiological gesture is either present in or absent from any given phonological element.

On a practical level, lip readers learn to realize that consonants are distinguished into pairs, having the same formation on the lips; but one is vocal and the other is not. For example, ‘d’ and ‘t’, and ‘z’ and ‘s’ look the same when spoken and present difficulties to the lip reader, but the difference can usually be read by the context.

Such phenomena are found clearly in the 28 letters of the Egyptian language. It must be noted that Egyptians are the only people in the “Arabic” speaking countries who can distinctively pronounce all 28 sounds—because it is their language, after all.

In the Egyptian Sufi traditions, the 28 ABGD letters are also divided into twin-letter classes of “bright” and “dark”.
2- Duality of Musical Tones—Authentic & Plagal
The very same binary distinction in the 28 Egyptian alphabetical letters are also found in harmonic musical sounds.

It is recognized that each natural musical tone has a mirror image (complementary opposite) tone at a specific and ‘consistent ratio’. By a shift of this specific ratio in the internal structure of any musical scale, it will produce its “Siamese twin” scale. The 2-octave scale is a twin scale: one is based on a sequence of natural tones and the other is based on the sequence of their opposite notes. In Western terms, the twin scales are called “plagal” and “authentic”!!

But what is this ‘consistent musical ratio’? It is the Egyptian musical unit known as the ‘comma’, and has the value of 22.6415 cents. (A cent is a standard unit for measuring musical intervals. An octave is equal to 1,200 cents.) More about measuring units in music and speech is in the next chapter.

[An excerpt from The Musical Aspects of The Ancient Egyptian Vocalic Language by Moustafa Gadalla ]