Sunday, August 05, 2007

Music and speech

Very few people here in Japan speak English, other than a few imported words such as "biru" for beer. In fact Japanese people have an entire other alphabet only for foreign words, for a total of three "alphabets" that can be mingled in a sentence. yet they love to sing english songs at karaoke. Acording to this research, singing in another language may actually be the best way to learn a new language :

"Results confirmed the hypothesis showing a strong learning facilitation of song compared to speech. Most importantly, the present results show that learning a new language, especially in the first learning phase wherein one needs to segment new words, may largely benefit of the motivational and structuring properties of music in song."

To overcome the language barrier, I find myself trying to learn Japanese. Japanese unlike Chinese is not a tonal language, making this quite an easier process, since I don't think I have perfect pitch. In China the proportion of people with perfect pitch is staggeringly high, while in the united states it is a pitiful 1:10000. It is a perfect example of nurture over nature, since the perfect pitch is enhanced as a result of tonal language acquisition in the infant. Does this mean Chinese people are better at karaoke? Perhaps not, since recent studies have shown that singing proficiency is universal, with little variation. There may be two types of tone deafness, one that is cognitive, and what that is purely vocal (i.e. you are aware of it):

"In this condition, most of the occasional singers sang as accurately as the professional singers. Thus, singing appears to be a universal human trait. However, two of the occasional singers maintained a high rate of pitch errors at the slower tempo. This poor performance was not due to impaired pitch perception, thus suggesting the existence of a purely vocal form of tone deafness."

So excuse me while I sing some Japanese tunes that are stuck in my head. The good news is that earbuds on mp3 players, may not be as bad as previously thought, especially in a quiet environment such as a hospital...


Guillaume said...

"China the proportion of people with perfect pitch is staggeringly high"

How do you explain William Hung then ??