Tone language experience enhances sensitivity to melodic contour

Evan David Bradley


Lexical tones are perceived along several dimensions, including pitch height, direction, and slope. Melody is also factored into several dimensions, key, contour, and interval, argued to correspond to phonetic dimensions. Tone speakers are expected to possess enhanced sensitivity to musical properties corresponding to properties of their tonal inventories. Mandarin- and English-speaking non-musicians took a melody discrimination test. Mandarin listeners more accurately discriminated melodic contour and interval, corresponding to relevant Mandarin tonal properties direction and slope. Groups performed similarly on other dimensions, indicating that tone language experience causes specific, rather than general, melody perception improvement, consistent with neural and perceptual learning theories.

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