Pitch Perception in Lexical Tone and Melody

Evan D. Bradley


Music is frequently compared to language, both structurally and psychologically, but the cognitive relationship between the two is still not well understood. This review examines pitch, a salient acoustic property shared by language and music, in order to evaluate the state of knowledge regarding the effects of musical and linguistic experience on the other domain. Specifically, the linguistic property of lexical tone is discussed in relation to musical melody. Basic facts about lexical tone systems are described, along with factors relevant to their perception. Structural components of melody and their perception are discussed, and parallels are drawn between aspects of melodic and linguistic perception. Cases of interaction between linguistic and musical pitch perception are reviewed, and theoretical perspectives on their relationship are compared. A set of perceptual models are identified that generate hypotheses about shared perceptual properties, which have the potential to further explain and specify the mutual influence between music and language cognition.


lexical tone, melody, pitch, learning, music and language

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Reviews of Research in Human Learning and Music (ISSN 2162-2213) is a publication of the Center for Music Learning in the Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music at The University of Texas at Austin.