Comparison of Rhythmic Processing in Language and Music: An Interdisciplinary Approach

Authors: Magne C., Aramaki M., Astesano C., Leigh Gordon R., Ystad S., Farner S., Kronland-Martinet R., Besson M.
Publication Date: December 2004
Journal: JMM: The Journal of Music and Meaning (3, Fall 2004/Winter 2005)



In this paper we describe an interdisciplinary collaboration between phoneticians, acousticians and neuroscientists that led to a study of rhythm in music and language. In the first part of the paper we discuss general aspects of rhythm, with a short overview of some earlier studies on the cultural influences of linguistic rhythm on musical rhythm. In the second part, we describe an experimental procedure aimed at comparing the perception of rhythmic and semantic violations in language with the perception of rhythmic and harmonic violations in music. Subjects listened to different sentences and melodies and were asked to focus on either rhythm or semantics/harmony to indicate whether or not the last word/arpeggio was acceptable or not in the context. The Event-Related Brain Potential method was used to study perceptual and cognitive processing related to the rhythmic and semantic/harmonic incongruities. The results indicated that the processing of rhythmic incongruities was associated with increased positive deflections in the Brain Potential in similar latency bands in both language and music. However, these positivities were present independently of the participants’ focus in the music part while they were only present when the participants focused on semantics in the language part.

Examples of language stimuli

Examples of music stimuli