Teresa Proto

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2013/2014
discipline Linguistics
Postdoctoral Reseacher in Linguistics and Germanic Philology

Research project

Music-Language Interaction in Vocal Music


Vocal music varies across the world. One of the main sources of difference is of course language: songs are sung in different languages. This is obvious. What is not obvious, however, are the ways in which languages constrain the setting of a text to a tune.
It is generally assumed that the alignment of a text to a tune is not a random process, but one that is governed by a set of rules that may vary from language to language, and possibly from one singing idiom to another within the same language). As a matter of fact, when lyrics are set to music, syllables are assigned to musical pitches in such a way as to conform to specific requirements of the language. Some of these requirements are universal, others are language specific. Both sets of requirements contribute to the well-formedness of musical settings; when either or both are violated, the resulting settings are rejected as awkward or ill formed by the participants of that singing tradition. This is because the latter have internalized a system of tacit principles and rules that regulate the occurrence in singing of violations to the grammar of the language.
A systematic study of the well-formedness conditions specific to any language or singing idiom, will demonstrate this system of tacit principles. My project represents a first step towards such a long-term systematic study, and will focus on two distinct singing idioms based on two languages that are typologically different: the German Volkslieder and the church songs of the Bamileke of Cameroon. Both studies build upon previous work carried out in 2011-2012. In particular, my analysis of Bamileke songs aims to contribute to the discussion on the interaction of speech tones and musical pitches in tonal languages; whereas the study of the German Volkslieder should provide useful insights into how the rhythmical and melodic structures of the language interact with the equivalent structures in music.



Teresa Proto holds a Ph.D. in Germanic Linguistics and Philology from the Siena University. She has previously been Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies - Collegium de Lyon, and Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Paris 8. 

Selected publications


Studio ecdotico, linguistico e musicologico dei Geisslerlieder. Sulle tracce di una tradizione orale, Göppinger Arbeiten zur Germanistik, Kümmerle, Göppingen, 2014.


‘The structure of metrical patterns in tunes and in literary verse. Evidence from discrepancies between musical and linguistic rhythm in Italian songs’, with F. Dell, Probus – An International Journal of Latin and Romance Linguistics, vol. 25, no.1, 2013, pp. 105-138.


‘Prominence matching in English songs: a historical perspective’, Signa. Revista de la Asociación Española de Semiótica, vol. 22, 2013, pp. 81-104.


‘Against an isochronous interpretation of the Nibelungen meter’, in Ch. Küper (ed.), Current Trends in Metrical Analysis, Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main, 2011, pp. 291‑305.


‘Metrica orale e tradizione scritta. L’esempio dei wechsell neidhartiani’, Filologia

Germanica - Germanic Philology, vol. 3, 2011, pp. 201-223.


‘Metrica, prosodia e melodia nel Nibelungenlied. Un approccio interdisciplinare’, in M.G. Arcamone & M. Battaglia (eds), La tradizione nibelungico-volsungica. Atti del XXXVI convegno dell’Associazione Italiana di Filologia Germanica, ETS, Pisa, 2010, pp. 241-256.


‘Proposte per un’edizione dei Geißlerlieder del 1349’, in E. De Angelis (ed.), La giovane germanistica italiana. Secondo convegno di Pisa, 17-18 settembre 2007 , Jacques e i suoiquaderni, vol. 48, 2007, pp. 261-273.


junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Law
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Cultural Studies
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Linguistics and Discourse Analysis
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Linguistics and Discourse Analysis