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Why is high high?
In several Indo-European languages (e.g. English, German, Italian,
Polish) words 'high' and 'low' are used to describe sounds of big
and small frequency, respectively. Do any of you know if this
relation appears in other (especially, non-Indo-European)
Moreover, what may be the source of the relation? What has a
vertical linear distance (high/low) to do with sound frequency?
When you look at people, the relation of size and frequency
appears to be inverse: usually tall ('high')people (men) talk and sing
at lower frequencies than short ('low') people (women, children). Big
things sound lower than small things: a piccolo is smaller than
I read in a review that as frequency of a sound increases, the
perceived location rises in elevation (I have not the original papers
yet). Could this be the cause?
But what are the physiological bases of this perceptual
Is it caused by some selective attenuation/amplification by pinnae?
Or is it a property of auditory centers in brain? Is it inherited or
If it is inherited, it should have an evolutionary cause: did high-
frequency sounds come to an australopithecus from high elevation
(birds)? and low frequency sounds from low elevation (sounds of
buffalo's steps transmitted via ground)?
If the perceptual phenomenon is learned, then again: do high
frequency sounds come to an infant from high elevation and low
sounds from low elevation?
Can anyone comment my questions?
Department of Neurophysiology
Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology
3, Pasteur St., 02-093 Warsaw, Poland
tel. (48-22) 659 85 71 ex 379 or 388
fax (48-22) 822 53 42
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