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Minor third

Dear List,

I have received the following inquiry which I an relaying to you.


 Pierre Divenyi

To: pdivenyi@xxxxxxxxx
From: "Jeremy Day-O'Connell" <jdoc@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Intoned calls

Dear Professor Divenyi,

I am a music theorist currently working on the possible linguistic sources
of certain stereotyped musical gestures.  I'm especially interested in what
I think of as "calling thirds" (what Ladd and others have called "stylized

Although I'm new to linguistics, I have been in touch with John Ohala, who
thought you might be of some assistance.

I was wondering if you (or anyone you're aware of) has thought about the
purported universality of the minor third interval (give or take a
semitone) in stylized intonation -- the calls of street vendors, the
vocatives so widely cited by linguists, the cry of "Air ball!" at
basketball games....  For instance, in addition to Ohala's "frequency
code," might there be an "interval code"?

(My own hypothesis is that the minor third represents a compromise between
two opposite tendencies, one vocal, one perceptual: 1) the _smaller_ the
interval, the easier to produce a consistent vocal tone on the two notes;
2) the _larger_ the interval, the easier the task of melodic "scene
analysis" in noisy real-world situations.)

I'd be grateful for any thoughts or references you might be able to share.