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in music, a device of counterpointcounterpoint,
in music, the art of combining melodies each of which is independent though forming part of a homogeneous texture. The term derives from the Latin for "point against point," meaning note against note in referring to the notation of plainsong.
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 wherein a phrase or motive is employed successively in more than one voice. The imitation may be exact, the same intervals being repeated at the same or different pitches, or it may be free, in which case numerous types of variation are possible. Imitation was much used in both vocal and instrumental compositions of the 15th and 16th cent. The ricercare, canzone, capriccio, and fantasia—instrumental forms of this period—employed imitation to a great extent and without formal plan. They were forerunners of the fugue. The strictest form of imitation is the canoncanon,
in music, a type of counterpoint employing the strictest form of imitation. All the voices of a canon have the same melody, beginning at different times. Successive entrances may be at the same or at different pitches.
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. While imitation is found to some extent in the music of nearly all periods, it is of special significance in Renaissance music.
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The representation of one material using another, generally implies copying the color and surface appearance of another material; one of the most common form is wood graining and marbleizing.
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the copying of another's behaviour. Imitation as a means of learning has been investigated by social learning theorists (e.g. Bandura, 1977) who regard it as a significant means of learning, and an alternative to the CONDITIONING theories of behaviourists such as Skinner. The term modelling is also used in this context. Research suggests that strength of imitation depends on various environmental conditions, and especially the qualities of the model. Particularly significant are the nurturance and power of the model, and whether it is the same sex as the observer. See also IDENTIFICATION.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



in contrapuntal music, the exact or inexact restatement by a voice or a part of the melody previously heard in another voice or part.

The technique arose in popular polyphonic singing; in the 13th century it gradually took hold in professional music as a method of exposition and development of the thematic material. The melody can be imitated in turn by several voices; two and three simultaneously sounded melodies can be imitated to a polyphonic texture. Canonic imitation, or canon, represents the technique in its most consistent form.

Imitation is categorized by the time of entrance of the imitating voice and by the interval the imitation forms with the basic statement of the melody (imitations in unison, at intervals of an upper and lower second, third, or fourth). Since the 15th century imitations at the intervals of the fourth and fifth, which created the basis of the fugue, have prevailed. Besides imitation in direct movement, composers also employ imitations in inversion form, in retrograde movement, and in rhythmic reduction and expansion (for example, the duration of each tone is doubled). So-called free imitation has also been developed, in which the imitating voice preserves only the basic outlines of the melodic figure or one characteristic rhythm of the theme. Dominant in the time of J. S. Bach, imitationalforms have since been usually employed within large homophonic forms.




(1) In aesthetics, a concept that has been widely used since antiquity to denote the essence and purpose of art as a means of reproducing reality. The idea of imitation (Greek, mimesis) was thoroughly elaborated in classical aesthetics. First articulated by Democritus, it was subsequently developed by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. According to Plato’s idealist point of view, art imitated not the world of things but the world of ideas. Thus, imitation was considered a weak and incomplete reflection of the absolute beauty of the eternal ideas.

In opposition to Plato, Aristotle developed a materialist conception of imitation as the essence of art. All types of art are by nature imitative. Imitation has two functions: a cognitive function and an aesthetic one. By means of imitation, people acquire their first knowledge about the world and, at the same time, experience pleasure, even when the subject imitated is itself unpleasant or revolting. The idea of mimesis as the imitation of nature originated in Hellenistic aesthetics, particularly Stoicism and Epicureanism.

In classical aesthetics, imitation was characteristically conceived of not as the artistic creation of something new but as the realization of something already existing in nature. The idea of creativity in general was alien to classical philosophy. According to Aristotle, the products of art are the result of a combination of the eternal forms and matter. The artist does not create forms; he merely imitates the beauty of the cosmos.

A new understanding of artistic imitation was developed by the aesthetics of Neoplatonism. According to Plotinus, art imitates not nature or visible things, but ideal eide—the prototypes and forms of all things; the World Mind (nous); or the activity of the Demiurge.

Medieval Christian aesthetics, which considered art the imperfect, sensuous reflection of the ideal divine beauty of the world, emphasized the allegorical and symbolic interpretation of art. Like Plotinus and the Neoplatonists, medieval philosophers regarded art not as an imitation of a “most beautiful cosmos” but as an imitation of the divine principle or ideal “archetype” of things. Thomas Aquinas believed that forms are not invented by the artist but are contained in his soul from the beginning and are merely applied by him to matter.

The idea of art as a “mirror” of nature was extensively developed by Renaissance thinkers and artists (for example, L. B. Alberti and A. Dürer). They were the first to interpret imitation as a creative principle: the artist does not apply a ready form to matter but creates all the forms of things. For example, Marsilio Ficino conceived of the design of a house primarily as the invention or creation of the very form and idea of the building. The artist is like god, for he seems to re-create all of nature, endowing it with an ideal pattern of harmony and proportion. In Renaissance aesthetics the principle of imitation was interpreted broadly and associated with “divine” enthusiasm, inspiration, and fantasy. Imitation became a universal category regarded as the essence of all art—not merely painting but, in particular, poetry and music.

F. Patrizi’s Poetics (1586), a critique of the theory of imitation written in the mannerist tradition, juxtaposes the concepts of “imitation” and “expression,” asserting that the distinguishing feature of poetry and of art in general is the expression of the artist’s inner spiritual world. The juxtaposition of imitation and expression was adopted in the 17th century by baroque aesthetics and later, by the aesthetics of the Sturm und Drang movement in Germany, as well as by the German and French romantics.

The principle of imitation was widely accepted in classicist aesthetics, which interpreted it as the imitation of a rationally treated nature, thus limiting the role of fantasy and imagination in art (C. Batteux). In Enlightenment aesthetics the principle of imitation was most clearly formulated by the British philosopher E. Burke, who believed that imitation, like sympathy, is one of the chief social passions, determining man’s habits, opinions, and entire way of life. In Germany the idea of the imitation of nature was developed by A. G. Baumgarten, J. G. Sulzer, J. J. Winckelmann, and G. E. Lessing.

The principle of imitation was profoundly criticized in the aesthetics of German classicist idealism. According to I. Kant, “genius” is the opposite of the spirit of imitation. F. W. J. von Schelling believed that art does not imitate nature. On the contrary, nature itself is built on the very principles that are revealed through art.

Marxist aesthetics notes the elements of a dialectical understanding of artistic creativity in the concept of imitation but overcomes the historical limitations of the concept, including passive contemplativeness, through a theory of art as a reflection of reality.


Losev, A. F., and V. P. Shestakov. Istoriia esteticheskikh kategorii. Moscow, 1965. Pages 204–36.
Losev, A. F. Istoriia antichnoi estetiki: Sofisty, Sokrat, Platon. Moscow, 1969.
Panofsky, E. Idea. Leipzig-Berlin, 1924.
Verdenius, W. J. Mimesis: Plato’s Doctrine of Artistic Imitation and Its Meaning to Us. Leiden, 1949.
Koller, H. Die Mimesis in der Antike. Bern, 1954.


(2) In psychology, a concept that refers to the copying of the movements or actions of others, which may result in the acquisition of new forms of behavior. The most primitive forms of imitation are observed in animals—instinctive movements, typical of a particular species and sometimes stimulated by the execution of these movements by other members of the same species. For example, the sudden flight of one bird may stimulate the flight of an entire flock of birds. Mutual stimulation of this kind maintains harmony and synchronization of behavior in a herd or flock.

The higher forms of imitation in animals are classified as imitative learning, in which particular habits are acquired through the repetition of actions observed in another animal. The anthropoid and lower apes, as well as dogs, cats, rats, and certain other animals, are sometimes capable of learning to solve certain problems merely by observing other members of their species performing the appropriate actions. For example, in an experiment they may learn to perform specific actions for which they are rewarded.

Imitation plays an important role in the ontogeny of both animals and humans, but imitation in humans differs qualitatively from imitation in animals. According to L. S. Vygotskii, imitation “is one of the basic paths in the cultural development of the child” (Razvitie vysshikh psikhicheskikh funktsii [Development of Higher Psychic Functions], Moscow, 1960, p. 179). The child associates with and interacts with adults, repeating their actions (and later their acts), as well as their words. As the child develops, his external acquisition of new forms of behavior is increasingly enriched by his understanding of the meaning of the actions that he is reproducing. Thus, in older children and adolescents, the character-forming role of imitation is expressed in a striving to follow the example of outstanding personalities or literary heroes.

In humans, conscious imitation is reinforced when the result of an action coincides with a person’s conception of a particular model. (This is particularly relevant to imitation in the creative arts.) Humans also engage in forms of biological imitation based on social stimuli (for example, the “infectious” cough or laugh, or the appearance of a common rhythm in group activity).


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. (in contrapuntal or polyphonic music) the repetition of a phrase or figure in one part after its appearance in another, as in a fugue
2. a literary composition that adapts the style of an older work to the writer's own purposes
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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