PLoS ONE 6(5): e20160. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020160
Co-Variation of Tonality in the Music and Speech of Different Cultures
Shui' er Han et al.
Whereas the use of discrete pitch intervals is characteristic of most musical traditions, the size of the intervals and the way in which they are used is culturally specific. Here we examine the hypothesis that these differences arise because of a link between the tonal characteristics of a culture's music and its speech. We tested this idea by comparing pitch intervals in the traditional music of three tone language cultures (Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese) and three non-tone language cultures (American, French and German) with pitch intervals between voiced speech segments. Changes in pitch direction occur more frequently and pitch intervals are larger in the music of tone compared to non-tone language cultures. More frequent changes in pitch direction and larger pitch intervals are also apparent in the speech of tone compared to non-tone language cultures. These observations suggest that the different tonal preferences apparent in music across cultures are closely related to the differences in the tonal characteristics of voiced speech.