Monday, December 10, 2012

Do music and language share the same resources?

The interest in the relationship between music and language is a long-standing one. While Lerdahl & Jackendoff in their seminal book on the generative theory of tonal music built mostly on insights of metrical phonology of the time, more recent studies draw attention to the parallels with current minimalist syntactic theory rather than phonology. However, there are compelling reasons to consider music and language as two distinct cognitive systems. Recent findings in the neuroscience of music suggest that music is likely a cognitively unique and evolutionary distinct faculty (e.g., Peretz & Colheart 2003). This is referred to as the modularity-hypothesis.

This position can be contrasted with the resource-sharing hypothesis that suggests music and language share processing mechanisms, especially those of a syntactic nature, and that they are just distinct in terms of the lexicon used (Patel 2003). For this hypothesis there is now quite some evidence (see, e.g., Slevc et al., 2009). That study showed enhanced syntactic garden path effects when the sentences were paired with syntactically unexpected chords, whereas the musical manipulation had no reliable effect on the processing of semantic violations.

However, last week a new study was published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (Perruchet & Poulin-Charronnat, 2012) that not only replicated the results of the former study, but also tested semantic garden paths, with – surprisingly – similar effects. The researchers suggest that the mechanism that might in fact underpin these interactions is the ‘garden path configuration’, rather than the implication of an alleged syntactic module (as is suggested by the resource-sharing hypothesis). It might well be that a different amount of attentional resources is recruited to process the linguistic manipulations and as such modulating the resources left available for the processing of music.

 ResearchBlogging.orgPerruchet P, & Poulin-Charronnat B (2012). Challenging prior evidence for a shared syntactic processor for language and music. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review PMID: 23180417

ResearchBlogging.orgPeretz, I., & Coltheart, M. (2003). Modularity of music processing Nature Neuroscience, 6 (7), 688-691 DOI: 10.1038/nn1083 Patel, A. (2003). Language, music, syntax and the brain Nature Neuroscience, 6 (7), 674-681 DOI: 10.1038/nn1082

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