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Re: infants and pitch

Rather than providing a basis for maintaining some kind of pre-linguistic
absolute pitch perception, I think it could easily be argued that early
exposure to a tonal language, at least one with more than one phonetically
level tone (e.g. Thai, Cantonese), would promote the development of a
strongly relative (talker dependent) perception of voice pitch. See

Francis, A.L., Ciocca, V.C., & Ng, B.K.C. (2003).  On the (non)categorical
perception of lexical tones.  Perception & Psychophysics, 65(6), 1029-1044.

Wong, P. C. M., and Diehl, R. L. (2003) Perceptual Normalization for Inter-
and Intra-Talker Variation in Cantonese Level Tones. Journal of Speech,
Language, and Hearing Research, 46, 413-421.

I'm not really sure how this fits with the Deutsch article posted recently,
as that was on production of single words in a list from languages that do
not have multiple level tones, while the work on talker normalization of
tone involves the perception of tokens within sentences, from languages
with multiple level tones (that is, lexical tones distinguished primarily
by their relative height within the talker's pitch range).


Annemarie Seither-Preisler wrote:
The findings by Saffran appear to be very revealing in this respect,
showing that young infants at the age of 8 months, unlike adults,
primarily rely on absolute pitch cues.

Saffran, J. R. & Griepentrog, G. J. Absolute pitch in infant auditory
learning: evidence for developmental reorganization. Dev Psychol 37, 74-85
Saffran, J. R. Musical Learning and Language Development. Ann NY Acad Sci
999, 397-401 (2003).

In summary, these results suggest that absolute pitch is a primary
perceptual mode that is heavily superseded by relative pitch (probably in
the course of language acquisition).  Early musical training or learning a
tonal language like Thai or Japanese may help to prevent this edging
out-process, with the consequence that certain subjects retain the ability
to perceive absolute pitch throughout life. Verbal categorizations of
notes may be helpful in this respect, but it would be misleading to take
them for the main underlying cause.

  Alexander L. Francis        http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~francisa
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