Thursday, February 21, 2008

Does music facilitate language acquisition?

The latest issue of Cognition contains a brief, yet interesting study on the role of music in language acquisition. While several authors have shown that language learning can be modeled according to the statistical properties of syllable sentences, just a few studies showed that for musical information a similar case for statistical learning can be made.

Daniele Schön (Marseille, France) and collaborators show in their study that a group of French participants, with an average age of 23, do better in learning new words associated with distinct pitches –a melody- than those being spoken in monotonous fashion (In this case really monotonous since it was a speech synthesizer). The study is especially interesting in the context of research on infant-directed speech that turns out to be quite ‘musical’ (i.e. melody and rhythm play an important role), especially when compared to ‘real’ speech, as such indirectly supporting the idea that these musical aspects actually facilitate communication and learning in infants.

However, since only language learning was tested, it could not be shown that the participants relied more on musical than on linguistic information. An effect one could expect since several studies have shown that musical information can help in memorization and learning. While the authors were able to show that
“learning a new language, especially in the first learning phase wherein one needs to segment new words, may largely benefit of the motivational and structuring properties of music in song”
unfortunately —because of the experimental design used— no conclusion can be drawn about whether learners rely more on musical or linguistic information. What could be shown was that linguistic information took precedence over musical statistical cues. I would have expected the opposite, like it was found in infant studies.

SCHON, D., BOYER, M., MORENO, S., BESSON, M., PERETZ, I., KOLINSKY, R. (2008). Songs as an aid for language acquisition. Cognition, 106(2), 975-983. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2007.03.005

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A sense for rhythm? (Part 3)

Last week quite a few people participated in an informal listening test on rhythm. It gratefully used some of the stimuli from a study by Hannon and Trehub (H&T).*

H&T studied the sensitivity of listeners to detect violations of rhythmic structure in simple meters (i.e. duple and triple meter; such as a march or waltz) and more complex meters (i.e. compound meter, such as 5/8 and 7/8, common to, e.g., Balkan music).
N.B. Last week’s fragment 1 was an example of a stimulus in a simple meter, fragment 2 was one in a complex meter (see earlier blog).

H&Ts study showed that North American participants judged the structure-violating music examples (e.g., the A-fragments in last weeks blog) as less similar to the original version than the structure-preserving ones (e.g., the B-fragments), but only so for the examples is simple meter (Fragment 1 in the earlier blog).

In a second experiment they showed that participants of Bulgarian or Macedonian origin could spot the rhythmic violations in both complex and simple-meter contexts. Arguably, because complex meters are more common in Balkan music. As such this is evidence for an effect of exposure or enculturation on rhythmic sensitivity. (Interestingly, the readers who did the test last week, performed quite similar to the Bulgarian participant group; But note: we did not replicate the study last week, it was just a demonstration).

An additional surprise of the H&T study was that 6-month-old infants (from North American origin), when exposed to the same stimuli, did as well in both metrical contexts: so very much like the Bulgarian adults. This is support for the idea that a sensitivity for rhythm and meter is actually active at an early age, and hinting that the North American participants lost some of these capabilities, instead of Balkan participants learning them. Of course, further research is needed to substantiate this, but the study is intriguing on its own.

Hannon, E.E., Trehub, S.E. (2005). Metrical Categories in Infancy and Adulthood. Psychological Science, 16(1), 48-55. DOI: 10.1111/j.0956-7976.2005.00779.x

Friday, February 08, 2008

A sense for rhythm? (Part 2)

This week an informal listening test that might reveal something about your sense for rhythm. If you have a minute to spare, please continue reading and respond to the three questions below. The outcome might surprise you!

First, state whether you consider yourself having a sense for rhythm (N.B. you can be honest, the responses are recorded anonymously):

Then do the following two comparisons. First, listen to the following folksong (Fragment 1):

Fragment 1

Then compare Fragment 1A and 1B to 1, and decide which of the two is rhythmically dissimilar:

Fragment 1A
Fragment 1B

Then listen to Fragment 2:

Fragment 2
And finally, compare Fragment 2A and 2B to 2, and decide which of the two is rhythmically dissimilar?

Fragment 2A
Fragment 2B

These examples are taken from a study by Hannon and Trehub published in Psychological Science.* There is at least one surprising results presented in that study. For now, please do the informal experiment, and I will tell more about the results next week. [see here]

Erin E. Hannon, Sandra E. Trehub (2005) Metrical Categories in Infancy and Adulthood. Psychological Science 16 (1), 48–55. DOI: 10.1111/j.0956-7976.2005.00779.x