Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Relative pitch in music and language

Knowledge and culture subproject 1: "Music Cognition" of Leiden University Centre for Linguistics

2013 - 2017
Johan Rooryck
NWO Horizon Grant NWO Horizon Grant

Subproject implementation

For my subproject I investigate whether relative pitch perception in language and music is shared or modular in nature, e.g. by looking at how pitch interacts with semantic and musical constraints in tone languages. The project further aims to explore the emergence of relative pitch as a developing skill in human infants, and the interaction between congenital amusia and tone language processing.

In music, pitch is the perceptual quality that allows us to organise tones of a melody in terms of high and low on a scale. Relative pitch refers to the ability to identify a note by comparing it to a reference note and recognising its interval, and allows a listener to recognise a song that has been transposed to another key for example (see Figure 1). In language, pitch is used to denote prosodic, semantic and syntactic units, with the use of relative pitch being less stringent than in music. That is to say, in language listeners appear to rely more on the processing of the melodic contour (whether pitch goes up or down) rather than exact intervals between pitch contrasts.

Figure 1
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