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When you want to refer to technical writings of a field, do you use text or literature? For example, which sentence is more common and more correct?

  1. In music literature, micro-tonal describes ...
  2. In music texts, micro-tonal describes ...
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Is there anything wrong with finessing the whole question, and saying "In music, micro-tonal means ..." (or maybe music analysis). – Peter Shor Jul 26 '11 at 23:26
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Mathematicians definitely use the term "the literature" when referring to the collected body of all mathematical papers. For example:

Can this theorem be found in the literature?

However, if they were talking about terminology, I would expect they would say

In mathematical writing, a category means ...

or maybe just,

In mathematics, a category means ...

I suppose texts or literature might be used in this context, but in my opinion those are both inferior choices.

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+1 And doesn't a PhD thesis in pretty much any field include a literature survey? – Monica Cellio Jul 26 '11 at 21:36
+1 by way of begging a favour. You being the best mathematician I know here (or anywhere, not to put too fine a point on it!), can you give use the benefit of a professional opinion on canonicalisation? – FumbleFingers Jul 28 '11 at 21:13

With the caveat that I am not a professional or academically trained musician, and and may be misunderstanding the common uses of these terms, here is my take:

Music is a different field from other technical areas (such as engineering disciplines), and has a more unique domain-specific language than others. Relevant to this question, I find that when I read the phrase "music texts," I am thinking of sheet music - the actual notes-on-pages form of music writing. When I read the phrase "music literature," I am instead thinking of books about the ideas of music, books about specific genres, composers, artists, et cetera.

Under those working definitions, I would expect to find the term 'micro-tonal' in music literature far more than I would expect it in music texts.

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I believe that "text" will always be more appropriate for that use. "Literature" implies that the writings in question include non-technical works, such as magazines about modern music, or perhaps (non-technical) reviews. It could even refer to writings that are not about the mechanics or theory of music itself, but about important musical figures (like a memoir or biography) or the cultural influence of music.

The point being that all of these writings could fall under "music literature," but would probably not contain technical discussions of microtones. "Music texts" would be a much better fit for that scenario.

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In science, literature (often the literature) is often used to describe what has been written in a specific field about the subject at hand, usually in the context of a certain question or project or thesis. This sense is different from the usual "literary" literature, which would probably exclude technical papers. With music, it is not immediately apparent which kind of literature is intended, because music isn't necessarily a science, nor is it a typical literary genre or theme. That is why I agree that literature would be ambiguous. P.S. Placet mihi nomen tuum! – Cerberus Jul 26 '11 at 22:44
I'm not ashamed to admit that I had to Google Translate that -- I spent the better part of an hour making sure I had the right declension when I coined this handle. Incidentally, since I lack the rep to comment on their replies, I'll note that asfallows and Peter Shor both noted things that hadn't even occurred to me, so good show. – Argumentum ad Stultitiam Jul 27 '11 at 0:09
Haha, well, you got it right! You wouldn't believe how many people trying to use Latin casually fail at it, the great majority. – Cerberus Jul 27 '11 at 2:35

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