Tonal Languages Help With Learning Music
The languages found in Asia, Africa and oftentimes in South America use tones and pitches. These tonal languages, which are often spoken in high and low pitches, might actually be advantageous in teaching the particular speaker music. Some of these languages, such as Vietnamese, which has as many as eleven different vowel sounds and six tones, have the variety in tones and pitches that make learning music easier. According to the study by researchers from Baycrest Health Sciences' Rotman Research Institute (RRI) in Toronto, Canada, they found that speaking a tonal language, like Cantonese, might improve how the brain processes and learns music.
"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 head researcher, Gavin Bidelman. "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."
Bidelman and colleagues recruited 54 healthy adults from the University of Toronto and Greater Toronto Area, who were in their mid-20s. The sample set was divided into three groups, which were composed of Cantonese-speakers, English-speakers and English-speakers who were trained instrumentalists. Each volunteer was required to attempt to separate complex musical notes that they heard through headphones in a soundproof room. The researchers measured their musical capabilities based on general cognitive ability, which included fluid intelligence and working memory, auditory pitch acuity, and music perception.
The researchers found that the trained musicians were able to perform the best in comparison to the other two groups. The Cantonese-speakers were able to perform comparable to the musicians and were better at distinguishing musical notes than the English-speakers. The Cantonese group tested 15 to 20 percent better than the other non-musician group. Bidelman believes that based from these findings, which indicate a strong relationship between music and language, music might be able to help people with speech problems.
"If music and language are so intimately coupled, we may be able to design rehabilitation treatments that use musical training to help individuals improve speech-related functions that have been impaired due to age, aphasia or stroke," Bidelman stated.
The research team, however, clarified that not all tonal languages might influence the speakers in learning music easier. Certain tonal language, such as Mandarin, have curved tones and varying pitch pattern, that do not resemble the other tonal languages and might not improve the brain's musical abilities.
The study was published in PLoS ONE.