Theme 2, compare development of singing and speaking

Theme 2.  To compare development of singing and speaking. The vocal apparatus for simple forms of song are in place early in childhood (Welch, 2005). If a child sings before he speaks, when and how does the transition from song to speech take place? What characterizes the bifurcation of general vocalization into the categories of song and speech? The ability to acquire a native accent falls off dramatically after puberty. Curiously, it is just after puberty that voice training begins. Speech comprehension tends to precede speech production. Does a similar precedence of comprehension over production apply to singing? Such questions about order of acquisition and interrelations among levels of competence in song and speech acquisition will be the object of attention of Theme 2.

Recent research documents the impact of specific linguistic experience on hearing musical rhythm (Patel & Daniele, 2003; Sadakata, 2006). Palmer & Kelly (1993) earlier explored the role of musical and linguistic knowledge on song production. Chen-Hafteck has examined the role of experience with tonal versus non-tonal languages. McGill psychologist and Canada Research Chair Caroline Palmer is world renowned for drawing attention to the performance aspects of music as opposed to the perceptual aspects. She has pioneered the search for commonalities between speech and music. She and Frank Russo will co-lead a team of psycholinguists and linguists (Cichocki, Forrester, Lempert), and psychologists (Della Bella, Lantz, Sinclair, Stewart) in systematic comparisons between the development of singing and speaking, across age and culture, so as to define the commonalities and boundaries between song and speech. Canada Research Chair in Neurocognition of Music, Isabelle Peretz, the eminent Johan Sundberg, author of the Science of the Singing Voice (1997), and Bradley Vines who is conducting research on the application of singing (melodic intonation therapy) for language-impaired stroke patients will complement the team. 

Digital archive.  Team members will record music and speech at particular ages across cultures.  These records will be archived in the digital archive along with searchable metadata.  Access to these records will enable  characterization of the commonalities of speech and music (e.g., of prosody – rhythm and intonation-- and effects of acculturation), and to determine influences of a linguistic environment on singing acquisition, or a singing environment on speech acquisition. Computer scientist, Sid Ahmed Selouani will use the AIRS database to extend his computer algorithms for distinguishing music and speech.  New quantitative tools developed in Palmer’s lab will be available to define the development of rhythmic and tempo sensitivities at particular ages.

            Training.  Students will probe similarities and differences between the acquisition of singing and that of spoken language. Some will  travel to foreign sites and record singing and speaking in natural and laboratory contexts to be entered into AIRS or CHILDES. Others may compare data already encoded in these databases.  The students will learn about both linguistic (or psycholinguistic) and musical analysis of audiovisual recordings. They will also test hypotheses arising from the work of Palmer and her colleagues (Jungers, Palmer & Speer, 2002; Large & Palmer, 2002) on entrainment to rhythm and tempo within a piece and in singing conversations between caregiver and child, for example.



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