AUTHOR: Patel, Aniruddh D. TITLE: Music, Language, and the Brain PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2007
Gail Mingalone Vorsas, the Program in Literatures, Literacies & Linguistics of the Comparative Studies Ph.D. program of Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton.
SUMMARY The connection between music and language has been a subject of interest for millennia, yet the exploration of this relationship from the perspective of modern cognitive science has only recently begun. Traditionally, these two complex systems of meaningful organized sound were thought to be distinct, processed in discrete areas of the brain. However, new concepts and tools have allowed the advancement of empirical research to challenge these suppositions, as Aniruddh D. Patel demonstrates in this volume
This book is a comprehensive interdisciplinary syncretization of recent research in the comparative study of music and language, and how each system is processed by the brain. Patel maintains that there are valid reasons to believe that spoken and musical sounds are treated differently by the brain; however, none of the findings precludes the idea of there being shared mechanisms for the learning of sound categories from both domains.
Going further, the author proposes that there are more cognitive and neural similarities than differences between the two; and, not only do they share a number of basic processing mechanisms, but the comparative study itself provides a powerful way to explore these mechanisms.
Patel is the Esther J. Burnham Senior Fellow in Theoretical Neurobiology at the Neuroscience Institute in San Diego. His work focuses on music and the brain, with a primary area of interest being the relationship between music and language, and on how the comparative study of these uniquely human abilities of communication can shed light on their underlying cognitive and neural mechanisms.
This book is the first such study of music and language from the standpoint of cognitive neuroscience. A musician as well as a neurobiologist, Patel has conceived the work to be accessible to individuals with primary training in either music or language studies, and intends for it to provide a framework for the exploration of music-language relations from a cognitive perspective.
The book is organized around specific areas of comparison between the two domains: sound elements (pitch and timbre), rhythm, melody, syntax, meaning, and evolutionary developments - with each chapter dedicated to one area, and able to stand on its own as a separate publication. Drawing on a vast number of studies, Patel balances his explications between the cognition of music and language and the connection between the two as they are processed by the brain.
Patel focuses on the comparison of Western music and languages, due to the volume of studies available; however, he does utilize a number of illustrations addressing music and language systems from throughout the world when needed for edification. A helpful tool is the reference to the publisher's website, with links to sound samples that illustrate some of his examples.
Patel sets up the structure of the book as well as the reasons for investigating the relationship between music and language in Chapter 1, the introduction. He posits that interest in this relationship is based on the notion that these two systems hold central roles in our existence - they define us as humans. Both are comprised of complex and meaningful sound sequences, and the mind performs similar interpretive operations on both to create perceptually discrete elements (i.e. words or chords) organized into hierarchical structures that convey rich meaning.
Each chapter is a discussion of the structural form of music and/or language as relates to the topic of the chapter, followed by a discussion of key cognitive links between music and language, providing empirical evidence and indicating areas of future studies.
In Chapter 2, ''Sound Elements'' Patel points out that we come into a world of two distinct sound systems - those of language and music - of the culture we are born into. Linguistic sound elements include vowels, consonants, and pitch contrasts of the native language, while musical sound elements include the timbres and pitches of the culture's music. This chapter compares music and speech in terms of the way they organize pitch and timbre. In both domains, the mind interacts with one particular aspect of sound (pitch in music, timbre in speech) to create a perceptually discretized system.
Patel puts forward the notion that our native sound system leaves an imprint on our minds; learning a sound system leads to a mental framework of sound categories for our native language or music. This accounts for why it can be difficult to hear or produce certain sound distinctions in another language, and why another culture's music may seem out of tune or irritating. We ''hear with an accent'' (9) based on our native sound system.
One of Patel's goals for Chapter 3, ''Rhythm,'' is to equip researchers with conceptual and empirical tools to explore the frontier between linguistic and musical rhythm. To do this, there are two overarching issues to regard in this context; the definition of rhythm and the notion of rhythm in speech.
First, he defines rhythm as the systematic patterning of sound in terms of timing, accent, and grouping. Second, each language has a rhythm that is part of its sonic structure, and an implicit knowledge of this rhythm is part of a speaker's competence in the language.
Speech and music involve the systematic temporal, accentual, and phrasal patterning of sound. One similarity between them is grouping structure; in both domains elements, such as tones and words, are grouped into higher level units, such as phrases. A key difference between them is temporal periodicity, which is widespread in musical rhythm but lacking in speech rhythm.
Patel points out that much recent empirical research on speech rhythm is moving toward the notion of the rhythm being based on how languages differ in the temporal patterning of vowels, consonants, and syllables. A key idea that motivates this research is that linguistic rhythm is the product of a variety of interacting phonological phenomena, rather than an organizing principle - quite unlike the case of music.
While these differences might seem to be enough to limit the possibility of relationships between the domains to compare, Patel sees that by changing the focus of comparative study from periodic to non-periodic aspects of rhythm, numerous connections between the domains are revealed - specifically the reflection of speech timing patterns in music, and the influence of speech rhythms on nonlinguistic rhythmic grouping preferences.
Chapter 4, ''Melody,'' focuses on the aspect of speech melody known as intonation, which Patel refers to as organized pitch patterns at the postlexical level. Unlike lexical pitch contrasts that occur in tone languages and pitch accent language, these patterns do not influence the semantic meaning of individual words.
Music's relation to linguistic intonation, that aspect of speech melody that conveys structural (vs. affective) information, is also examined here. To allow for comparative study, the author suggests a definition of melody that can be applied to both domains; this would be an organized sequence of pitches that conveys a rich variety of information to a listener.
Patel finds numerous points of contact between music and language in terms of structure and processing. He cites the statistics of pitch patterning in a composer's native language that can be reflected in his or her instrumental music, and neuropsychological research indicating that melodic contours in speech and music may be processed in an overlapping way in the brain, as two more indicators that musical and spoken melody are more closely related than has generally been believed.
Chapter 5, ''Syntax,'' is divided into three parts. The first provides background on musical syntax, the second part discusses formal differences and similarities between musical and linguistic syntax, and the final section discusses what neuroscience has revealed about musical-linguistic syntactic relations in the brain.
Perhaps the most controversial area of comparative study of the two systems, Patel attributes contemporary interest in the comparison of linguistic and musical syntax to Leonard Bernstein's 1973 lecture series, ''The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard''. The conductor's interest in the analysis of musical structure and meaning found inspiration in Noam Chomsky's generative linguistic theory, resulting in his attempt to analyze the grammar of Western tonal music in a linguistic framework. While Bernstein's work was inconclusive, his lectures were the impetus behind the organization of a 1974 seminar on music and linguistics at MIT, from which emerged the team of musicologist Fred Lerdahl and linguist Ray Jackendoff. Lerdahl and Jackendoff (1983) became one of the most influential books in music cognition.
In this chapter, Patel stresses that comparative research on musical and linguistic syntax should be grounded in a solid understanding of the important differences between the two systems, so as to avoid the traps of superficial analogies, like those which caught earlier thinkers, such as Bernstein. His own theory, the shared syntactic integration resource hypothesis, posits that linguistic and musical syntactic representations are stored in distinct brain networks, but there is overlap in the networks which provide neural resources for the activation of stored syntactic representations (283).
In Chapter 6, ''Meaning,'' Patel quotes Claude Lévi-Strauss to describe the paradoxical character of the relationship between linguistic and musical meaning, music is ''the only language with the contradictory attributes of being at once intelligible and untranslatable'' (Lévi-Strauss 1990, 18). While it is possible to translate between any two languages, it is not realistic to think that it is possible to preserve the original meaning when translating music into language or even another culture's musical system. This then, begs the question, how is it possible to compare meaning in these two disparate systems?
Patel offers an approach that allows for a comparative study of the two, inspired by ethnomusicologist Jean-Jacques Nattiez. That is, to view meaning as existing when perception of an object or event brings something to mind other than the object or event itself. This definition is one that can stimulate systematic thinking about the variety of ways in which music can be meaningful, which in turn refines the discussion of how musical and linguistic meaning are similar or different.
Taking this perspective allows topics for cross-domain research such as the expression and appraisal of emotion, the cognitive relations that make a linguistic or musical discourse coherent, and the combination of linguistic and musical meaning in song.
Chapter 7, ''Evolution'' addresses the phenomena of language and music from an evolutionary perspective. The two main sections of this chapter address the question of to what extent human bodies and brains have been shaped by natural selection for both of these abilities, abilities that appear in only humans, and in all cultures? (As to the assertion that whales and birds create songs, Patel says that these are acoustic displays only; the animals don't make or appreciate music the way humans do.)
Patel uses a null hypothesis to argue that there is enough evidence to support that language has in fact been shaped by natural selection, while there is not enough evidence to make the same claim about music; this however, is not a settled issue. He then asks, ''If music is not an evolutionary adaptation, why is it universal?''
While a number of studies have explored the question of innateness, Patel sees the case for music-specific innate bias as weak. Rather, he suggests beat-based rhythmic processing as an answer, and as an area of research he finds likely to prove crucial to future debates over the evolutionary status of music.
In closing this chapter, Patel urges the reader to keep in mind that the notion that something is either a product or biological adaptation or a frill is based on a false dichotomy. He says that music may be a human invention, like fire, but it is something we invented that transforms human life; it also has the power to change the brain, and thereby change our own nature, an ability no other species possesses.
EVALUATION Patel's book is a logically assembled comprehensive presentation of the work that has and is being done in this relatively new field of inquiry. While some of the examples are highly technical, Patel successfully connects research in the fields of linguistics, cognitive science, music cognition, and neuroscience into a clear text for the expert and non-specialist alike. In doing so, he supports his enthusiasm for using music-language studies to bridge the current divide between the sciences and the humanities, so as to foster interactions that can generate new ideas and discoveries that neither side can accomplish alone.
Patel concludes that research known to date indicates that music and language should be considered complex ''constellations of subprocesses, some of which are shared, and others not'' (417). The purpose of this book is to show the value of the comparison of the cognitive mechanisms of music and language, finding similarities as well as differences, so as to improve our understanding of how the mind assembles complex communicative abilities from elementary cognitive processes. It is impossible to do justice here to the volume of information contained within this work, so I will limit my remaining comments to Patel's chapters on syntax and meaning.
Throughout, the discussion is contained within the realm of the relationship between purely instrumental music and ordinary spoken language, so as to discover to what extent the making and perceiving of instrumental music draws on cognitive and neural mechanisms used in our everyday communication system. The author chooses to eliminate poetry and vocal music, where music and language are inextricably linked, so as to force a search for the hidden connections that unify these different phenomena.
In 1973, the same year that saw Bernstein's ''Unanswered Question'', ethnomusicologist John Blacking famously asked, ''How musical is man?'' In studying the role of music in the lives of the Venda people of South Africa, Blacking (1973: 10) asserts that music cannot exist unless humans possess a ''capacity for structural listening'' so as to distinguish it from noise. This capacity he says, must be preceded by a perception of sonic order, whether innate or learned.
Without the benefit of the cognitive studies that Patel has access to, Blacking proffers that ''the musical styles current in a society will be best understood as expressions of cognitive processes that may be observed to operate in the formation of other structures'' (25). He gives the example of how in the musical system of the Venda, ''rhythm distinguishes between song (u imba) from speech (u amba), so that patterns of words that are recited to a regular meter are called 'songs''' (27). Referring to Chomsky's surface and deep meaning, Blacking argues that musical structures are similar to linguistic structures, in that ignoring deep structures can lead to confusion of meaning (23).
Patel notes that Lerdahl and Jackendoff adapted generative grammar for their analysis of music, but they didn't focus on comparisons of linguistic and musical syntax out of skepticism about making superficial analogies between the two. Specifically, they point out the lack of musical equivalents for linguistic parts of speech, and differences in the ways linguistic and musical ''syntactic trees'' are constructed. For them though, the primary difference between the domains is that music doesn't signify the way language does - individual components of a piece of music don't correspond to a specific concept.
This is also problematic for philosopher Theodor Adorno (1993), who describes music as similar to but not language. While they share the qualities of being composed of organized sound occurring over a period of time, adhere to syntactical structure, and have meaning, that meaning cannot be ''abstracted from the music; it does not form a system of signs'' (410); and unlike language, music isn't arbitrary. But just as it is the case that arbitrary signs have meaning in a particular culture, to discuss meaning in music (Adorno is speaking about Western absolute music) requires an understanding of the culture and time in which it was written and in which it is heard.
Leon Botstein (1993) articulates another complication that can make a discussion of the similarities and differences of the two difficult; ''recognition of the intention of the composer or the 'meaning' of a work, can only be made through language,'' and once we use words to speak about music, we have privileged language as the ''benchmark against which music functions'' (367).
On the other hand, to speak of music in terms of its syntactical structure allows the discussion of meaning gleaned through the perception of discrete structural elements organized into sequences that result in establishing internalized norms for the listener. According to Patel, the cognitive significance of these norms is that they create expectations that influence how the listener hears music. In addition to the structural principals, the study of syntax also involves the ''implicit knowledge a listener uses to organize musical sounds into coherent patterns'' (242).
Lerdahl and Jackendoff (1983, 6) support this notion, explaining that music structure ''consists of rhythmic and pitch organization, dynamic and timbral differentiation, and motivic-thematic processes,'' but of key importance is a specific structural description of a tonal piece, one that an experienced listener infers in his hearing of it.
This inference is framed by Patel in terms of pragmatics - how the listener adds contextual information to what is being heard. He applies Andrew Kehler's theory of linguistic resemblance to music, as an example of what can be used in language-music research: parallelism (similarity), contrast, and elaboration. He adds to this Florian Wolf and Edward Gibson's notion of an annotative system for coherence relations in text. Comprised of eight relations, six are regarded as having musical parallels: similarity, contrast, elaboration, cause\effect, violated expectation, and temporal sequences. Culturally specific, these relations are what the listener brings to hearing music or language; they are the foundation on which inference rests.
According to Patel, Kehler's theory is inspired by David Hume's 1748 _Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding_, a philosophical investigation of ''connections among ideas'' (336) that humans can appreciate. Those connections, as well as whatever informs a listener's inference implies consciousness, and it is fitting within the context of the goals of this book that computer scientist Kehler is inspired by philosopher Hume. Likewise, a connection can be made to John Searle's endorsement of the idea of a unified field model of consciousness. Searle (2000, 574) suggests that rather than finding a consciousness for each of the cognitive systems, ''we will find a single, unified conscious field containing visual, auditory, and other aspects.''
The notion of connection rather than disparity is what Patel has shown us. In connecting such a vast array of ideas to show the relationship of music and language and the brain's cognitive abilities, he has created a book that will be useful to readers from many diverse fields and interests, and much credit is due him for this brilliantly engaging assemblage. The information is comprehensive in scope, yet his conversational style - while frequently highly technical - is accessible to his audience. He leaves few stones unturned, asks as many questions as he provokes, and at all times reminds the reader that there is still much research to be done to solve the mysteries of the relationship of music, language and the brain.
REFERENCES Adorno, Theodor (Susan Gillespie, trans). 1993. ''Music, Language, and Composition.'' _The Musical Quarterly_, 27.3: 401-414.
Blacking, John. 1973. _How Musical is Man?_ Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Lerdahl, Fred and Ray Jackendoff. 1983. _A Generative Theory of Tonal Music_. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1990. _The Raw and the Cooked: Introduction to a Science of Mythology_. (J. Weightman & D. Weightman, Trans.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Searle, John. 2000. ''Consciousness.'' _Annual Review of Neuroscience_, 23: 557-578.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Gail Mingalone Vorsas is a student in the Program in Literatures, Literacies & Linguistics of the Comparative Studies Ph.D. program of Florida Atlantic University. Her interests lie in the relationship between language and music, particularly in the comparative study of the development of both systems within specific cultural contexts.