[lg policy] Linguist List Issue: Crosslinguistic Perception of Pitch in Language and Music

Thu Jan 31 15:17:27 UTC 2013

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Message1: Crosslinguistic Perception of Pitch in Language and Music
From:Evan Bradley evan.d.bradley at lawrence.edu
LINGUIST List issue http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-539.html 

Institution: University of Delaware 
Program: Department of Linguistics & Cognitive Science 
Dissertation Status: Completed 
Degree Date: 2013 

Author: Evan D Bradley

Dissertation Title: Crosslinguistic Perception of Pitch in Language and Music 

Dissertation URL:  http://www.evanbradley.net/research.shtml#dissertation

Linguistic Field(s): Cognitive Science
                     Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin (cmn)

Dissertation Director(s):
Jeffrey N. Heinz
Irene Vogel

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation investigates the ways in which experience with lexical tone 
influences the perception of musical melody, and how musical training influences 
the perception of lexical tone. The central theoretical basis for the study is a 
model of perceptual learning, Reverse Hierarchy Theory (Ahissar et al., 2009), in 
which cognitive processes like language tune neural resources to provide the 
sensory information necessary for the perceptual task; these sensory resources 
are then available to other cognitive processes, like music, which rely on the 
same perceptual properties. This study proposes that the tone properties pitch 
height, pitch direction, and pitch slope correspond to the melodic properties key, 
contour, and interval , respectively, and this correspondance underlies crossover 
effects between lexical tone and melody perception.

Specifically, the study asks three questions:
1. whether differences in melody perception between tone and non-tone 
language speakers, and among speakers of different tone languages, can be 
linked to
specific properties of the languages' tonal inventories;
2. whether melody perception is affected by second language experience with a 
tone language; and
3. whether musical ear-training leads to enhanced perception of lexical tone.
To address (1), a standardized test of music perception (the Musical Ear Test; 
Wallentin et al. (2010)) was administered to tone (Mandarin and Yoruba) and 
nontone (English) language speakers. Tone language speakers demonstrate 
more accurate melody perception than English speakers; rather than a uniform 
advantage, however, this effect is limited to those specific properties argued to 
be shared between language and music. Further, Mandarin and Yoruba 
speakers do not perform identically on melodic perception, suggesting linguistic 
effects on melody perception are related to differences between the tonal 
inventories of the languages. Attempts to extend this hypothesis to second-
language tone experience (2) were not successful; Mandarin learners did not 
perceive melody similarly to native speakers. Further study with more proficient 
second language speakers is necessary. The role of explicit perceptual music 
training (3) was examined by assessing the effects of aural skills training on 
musicians' perception of Mandarin lexical tones. The results reveal that this 
training did not lead to improvement in the perception of these tones in a similar 
fashion to native or second language speakers of Mandarin, but did change 
musicians' response bias toward the tones in a manner consistent the general 

This work attempts to better understand pitch perception within a theoretical 
framework of perceptual learning. Taken together, the results partially support 
the specific proposed mappings between structural properties of language and 
music, and more generally support a framework for explaining these and other 
cases of crossover between language and music. These findings address 
questions of cognitive modularity and the relationship between language and 
music, as well the role of sensory experience during development and adulthood.

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