Speakers of tonal languages have better musical ears

alt
©s-dmita-fotolia.com

Non-musicians who speak tonal languages, found mainly in Asia, Africa and South America, may have a better ear for learning musical notes, according to a Canadian study. Researchers at Baycrest Health Sciences’ Rotman Research Institute (RRI) in Toronto have found the strongest evidence yet that speaking in tonal languages may improve the way the brain hears. Tonal languages have an abundance of high and low pitch patterns as part of speech. In these languages, differences in pitch can alter the meaning of a word. For example, Vietnamese has eleven different vowel sounds and six different tones. Cantonese also has an intricate six-tone system, while English has no tones. The benefits of music training for speech and language are already well documented (showing positive influences on speech perception and recognition, auditory working memory, aspects of verbal intelligence, and awareness of the sound structure of spoken words). The reverse – the benefits of language experience for learning music – has largely been unexplored until now. “For those who speak tonal languages, we believe their brain’s auditory system is already enhanced to allow them to hear musical notes better and detect minute changes in pitch,” said lead investigator Gavin Bidelman, who conducted the research as a post-doctoral fellow at Baycrest’s RRI, supported by a GRAMMY Foundation® grant. “If you pick up an instrument, you may be able to acquire the skills faster to play that instrument because your brain has already built up these auditory perceptual advantages through speaking your native tonal language.”

Source: Baycrest Health Sciences

Rose Simpson