Books & arts
They can feel it all over
The echaes between music and language are revealing about both
One of the liveliest debates in lingistics is over whether all languages share fundamental properties. If so, perhaps language is a universal feature of evolution. To find out, scholars have looked to other universal features, and one in particular: no society on Earth lacks music. The comparison illuminates what is special about both.
Music and language seem intimately linked, but how? Did language start with song, as Darwin believed? or is music "auditory cheesecake" that developed from language and other useful faculties, as Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist, has said? Is music itself a language, as Stevie wonder intoned? Might the two be fundamentally the same?
Some similarities are obvious. Both can utilise the unique human vocal tract.Both have a kind of beat. Both can express emotion. Both can be either carefully composed or spontaneously improvised. And both are highly social. Although the origin of music is unclear, it seems likely to have involved celebration, communal worship or martial inspiration and co-ordination.
At a structural level the parallels are striking, too. With a finite set of notes or words, and a finite set of rules, an inexhaustible variety of novel melodies or sentences can be created. This "discrete infinity" is often said to be the hallmark of human language. Animal communication, by contrast, is only able to convey a limited number of thoughts (the location of a source of food, for example, or the presence of a predator).
Aniruddh Patel of Thufts University has argued that music and language, rather than being essentially the same, rely on the same bit of the brain. In an experiment he presented his subjects with a sentence that contained a grammatical trick (" The scientist confirmed the hypothesis was being studied in his lab" ), revealing one word at a time. The subjects were to press a button for each word at their own pace. Many paused at the unexpected "was". "The scientist confirmed the hypothesis" seemed a complete sentence.
塔夫茨大学的阿尼鲁德·帕特尔认为，音乐和语言的本质并不相同，相同的是依赖于大脑的同一片区域。在一个实验中，他向实验对象展示了一个包含语法技巧的句子，" The scientist confirmed the hypothesis was being studied in his lab" ，（“科学家证实了他的实验室正在研究这个假设”），一次只显示一个单词。实验对象要按照自己的速度在每一个词出现时按下按钮。很多人在意外的“was”出现时停下了。"The scientist confirmed the hypothesis" （科学家证实了这一假设）看起来已经是一个完整的句子了。
They also heard music as they performed this exercise. Some were treated to a new chord in a pleasing progression with every word that was revealed. Others heard a jarring chord at the moment they reached the trick word "was". Both groups slowed down-but those given the discordant notes did so much more. Mr Patel hypothesises that this is because sentence structure, and the structure of the harmony, draw on shared, limited resources in the brain.