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LINGUIST List 24.539

Wed Jan 30 2013

Diss: Cognitive Science/ Lang Acq/ Phonetics/ Phonology/ Psycholing/ Chinese, Mandarin: Bradley: 'Crosslinguistic Perception of Pitch in Language and Music'

Editor for this issue: Lili Xia <lxialinguistlist.org>

Date: 29-Jan-2013
From: Evan Bradley <evan.d.bradleylawrence.edu>
Subject: Crosslinguistic Perception of Pitch in Language and Music
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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:
Irene Vogel
Jeffrey N. Heinz

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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