"Long before it's in the papers"
June 04, 2013

RETURN TO THE WORLD SCIENCE HOME PAGE


Different cultures’ music matches their speech styles, researchers find

June 10, 2011
Special to World Science  

Mu­sic from dif­fer­ent cul­tures mim­ics their lan­guages in terms of the types of pitch changes most of­ten used, a study has found.

Re­search­ers have de­bat­ed for years what the bi­o­log­i­cal ba­sis of mu­sic might be. The new find­ings pro­vide “a way of ex­plain­ing at least some aes­thet­ic pref­er­ences in bi­o­log­i­cal terms,” wrote Shui’ er Han of the Duke-NUS Grad­u­ate Med­i­cal School in Sin­ga­pore and col­leagues, re­port­ing the find­ings in the May 27 on­line is­sue of the re­search jour­nal PLoS One.

Past stud­ies have al­ready found “sev­eral as­pects of mu­sical ton­al­ity… are closely tied to voiced speech,” they not­ed.

Han and col­leagues an­a­lyzed sam­ples of the mu­sic and lan­guages of Chi­na, Thai­land, Vi­et­nam, the Un­ited States, France and Ger­ma­ny in terms of pitch con­tent and fre­quen­cy of pitch changes. The first three of these cul­tures em­ploy “tone lan­guages,” in which pitch is an es­sen­tial part of the mean­ing of some words, giv­ing such lan­guages what some lis­ten­ers de­scribe as a sing-song qual­ity. The oth­er three cul­tures are not gen­er­ally con­sid­ered to have tone lan­guages.

It turned out that tone-language cul­tures have mu­sic in which pitch changes more fre­quent­ly, and the pitch dif­fer­ences are larg­er, than non-tone-language cul­tures, Han and col­leagues wrote. These dif­fer­ences, they added, are al­so re­flected in the speech of these cul­tures.

“D­if­fer­ent ton­al pref­er­ences ap­par­ent in mu­sic… are closely re­lat­ed to the dif­fer­ences in the ton­al char­ac­ter­is­tics of voiced speech,” wrote the sci­en­tists. The find­ings may al­so help ex­plain why East­ern and West­ern mu­sic dif­fers in the first place, they added. “Ex­plana­t­ions of­ten re­fer to the use of dif­fer­ent scales, but this begs the ques­tion of why dif­fer­ent sets of pitch in­ter­vals are pre­ferred in the first place,” they not­ed.


* * *

Send us a comment on this story, or send it to a friend









 

Sign up for
e-newsletter

   
 
subscribe
 
cancel

On Home Page         

LATEST

  • Meet­ing on­line may lead to hap­pier mar­riages

  • Pov­erty re­duction, environ­mental safe­guards go hand in hand: UN re­port

EXCLUSIVES

  • Was black­mail essen­tial for marr­iage to evolve?

  • Plu­to has even cold­er “twin” of sim­ilar size, studies find

  • Could simple an­ger have taught people to coop­erate?

  • Diff­erent cul­tures’ mu­sic matches their spe­ech styles, study finds

MORE NEWS

  • F­rog said to de­scribe its home through song

  • Even r­ats will lend a help­ing paw: study

  • D­rug may undo aging-assoc­iated brain changes in ani­mals

Music from different cultures mimics their languages in terms of the types of pitch changes most often used, a study has found. Researchers have debated for years whether music might have a natural or biological basis. The new findings provide “a way of explaining at least some aesthetic preferences in biological terms,” wrote Shui’ er Han of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore and colleagues, reporting their results in the May 27 online issue of the research journal PLoS One. Past studies have already found “several aspects of musical tonality… are closely tied to voiced speech,” they noted. Han and colleagues analyzed samples of the music and languages of China, Thailand, Vietnam, the United States, France and Germany in terms of pitch content and frequency of pitch changes.The first three cultures listed employ “tone languages,” in which pitch is an essential part of the meaning of some words, giving such languages what some listeners describe as a sing-song quality. The other three cultures are not generally considered to have tone languages. It turned out that tone-language cultures have music in which pitch changes more frequently, and the pitch differences are larger, than non-tone-language cultures, Han and colleagues wrote. These differences, they added, are also reflected in the speech of these cultures. “Different tonal preferences apparent in music… are closely related to the differences in the tonal characteristics of voiced speech,” wrote the scientists. The findings may also help explain why Eastern and Western music differs in the first place, they added. “Explanations often refer to the use of different scales, but this begs the question of why different sets of pitch intervals are preferred in the first place,” they noted.