Phonetic dimensions of tone language effects on musical melody perception.

Research paper by Bradley, Evan D.

Indexed on: 22 Dec '16Published on: 27 Oct '16Published in: Psychomusicology


Delineating the relationship between music and language is crucial for understanding the function of both. A key feature shared by both systems is a reliance on pitch. Recent work involving lexical tone demonstrates that crossover of musical and linguistic perception is bidirectional, but the features driving this influence are not well defined. The present study attempts to link phonetic features of lexical tones to structural elements of melody (via a shared reliance on similar acoustic properties) by comparing melody discrimination among speakers of 2 tone languages (Mandarin and Yoruba) and 1 nontone language (English). Both tone language groups outperformed English speakers on dynamic aspects of melody (contour and interval), which are argued to resemble important cues to lexical tone perception (direction and slope) in these languages. Differences between Mandarin and Yoruba speakers suggest that language-to-music effects are not simply a tone/nontone distinction, but that specific tonal features of particular languages affect melody perception in slightly different ways. Differences between groups in response bias suggest the phonological structures of languages’ tone systems may also affect music perception. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)