in music, intoned liturgical recitation of scriptural texts, guided by signs originally devised as textual accents, punctuations, and indications of emphasis. Such signs, termed ecphonetic signs, appear in manuscripts of the 7th-9th century, both Jewish and Christian (Syrian, Byzantine, Armenian, Coptic). Although first intended to clarify the reading of the texts, they were apparently adopted as mnemonic devices to help the singer recall various melodic formulas. Their musical interpretation is thus dependent on a knowledge of the oral tradition through which the melodic formulas are transmitted. Today cantillation refers almost exclusively to the Jewish service
Learn more about cantillation with a free trial on Britannica.com.