Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Are we ‘illiterate listeners’? [Part 2]

This week a fragment from The Illiterate Listener that will be published later this year at Amsterdam University Press:
"French babies cry differently than German babies. That was the conclusion of a study published at the end of 2009 in the scientific journal Current Biology. German babies were found to cry with a descending pitch; French babies, on the other hand, with an ascending pitch, descending slightly only at the end. It was a surprising observation, particularly in light of the currently accepted theory that when one cries, the pitch contour will always descend, as a physiological consequence of the rapidly decreasing pressure during the production of sound. Apparently, babies only a few days old can influence not only the dynamics, but also the pitch contour of their crying. Why would they do this?

The researchers interpreted it as the first steps in the development of language: in spoken French, the average intonation contour is ascending, while in German it is just the opposite. This, combined with the fact that human hearing is already functional during the last trimester of pregnancy, led the researchers to conclude that these babies absorbed the intonation patterns of the spoken language in their environment in the last months of pregnancy and consequently imitated it when they cried.

This observation was also surprising because until now one generally assumed that infants only develop an awareness for their mother tongue between six and eighteen months, and imitate it in their babbling. Could this indeed be unique evidence, as the researchers emphasized, that language sensitivity is already present at a very early stage? Or are other interpretations possible?

Although the facts are clear, this interpretation is a typical example of what one could call a language bias: the linguist’s understandable enthusiasm to interpret many of nature’s phenomena as linguistic. There is, however, much more to be said for the notion that these newborn babies exhibit an aptitude whose origins are found not in language but in music.

We have known for some time that babies possess a keen perceptual sensitivity for the melodic, rhythmic and dynamic aspects of speech and music: aspects that linguists are inclined to categorize under the term ‘prosody’, but which are in fact the building blocks of music. Only much later in a child’s development does he make use of this ‘musical prosody’, for instance in delineating and subsequently recognizing word boundaries. But let me emphasize that these very early indications of musical aptitude are not in essence linguistic."

ResearchBlogging.org Honing, H. (2011, in press). The illiterate listener. On music cognition, musicality and methodology. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Is blogging outdated?

Yesterday an article by Carola Houtekamer appeared in NRC Handelsblad reviewing the state of blogging. She wrote an enthusiastic article a few years ago and it was about time for a re-evaluation.

A round of telephone calls made her realize, though, that blogging is out of date and is replaced by recent activities like Twitter and Facebook. But except in the world of science! There, apparently, the 140 characters are too few, and is Facebook considered too shallow.

The most remarkable revitalization of blog-activity, mentioned in Houtekamer's article, is the new network setup by Bora Zivkovic of Scientific American. But also The Guardian, Wired and the scientific journal PLOS recently started new blog networks (see, e.g., researchblogging.org, blogs.discovermagazine.com, scientopia.org or occamstypewriter.org).

Personally, I like the scale of a blog. Over time it builds up as an archive of smaller and larger ideas, and turns out to be a reference to topics that appear with a certain regularity in my classes; it is not uncommon that some blog entries turn out to be useful as a staring point for a larger project.

Nevertheless, lets see how all this develops in the next five years. New technology will surely suggest novel ways of doing and disseminating the doubts, failures and insights of science.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Is muzikaliteit bijzonder? [Dutch]

Vandaag in de Volkskrant (in de rubriek Opinie & Debat) een stuk van Dick Swaab, Erik Scherder en ondergetekende met de titel Amuzikaal zijn is de grote uitzondering: over waarom muziek geen luxe is.

Doe mee aan de discussie op opinie.volkskrant.nl.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Interested in doing a postdoc in music cognition?

The University of Amsterdam offers three new postdoc positions, one of which is in the field of music cognition.

Detailed information on the project, and instructions on how to apply, can be found here. Deadline for applications: 23 June 2011.

ResearchBlogging.orgHoning, H., Ladinig, O., Háden, G., & Winkler, I. (2009). Is Beat Induction Innate or Learned? Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1169 (1), 93-96 DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04761.x

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Is muziek een luxe? [Dutch]

Op woensdag 22 juni organiseert Muziek telt! het symposium Muziek en het Brein. Vragen als: wat zijn die positieve effecten van muziek op het brein? Wanneer vinden ze plaats? En hoe ver zijn wetenschappers in hun onderzoek hiernaar? worden beantwoord door de keynote speakers:
  • prof. dr. Erik Scherder (hoogleraar Klinische Neuropsychologie)
  • prof. dr. Henkjan Honing (hoogleraar Muziekcognitie)
  • prof. dr. Dick Swaab (hoogleraar neurobiologie)
Het symposium is bedoeld voor iedereen die werkzaam is in onderwijs, wetenschap, politiek, gezondheidszorg en muziek.

Presentatie van de middag is in handen van Paul Witteman.

Om aan te melden klik hier (mogelijk tot 31 mei a.s.).