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Cognition. 2003 Feb;87(1):B35-45.

An empirical comparison of rhythm in language and music.

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The Neurosciences Institute, 10640 John Jay Hopkins Drive, San Diego, CA 92121, USA.


Musicologists and linguists have often suggested that the prosody of a culture's spoken language can influence the structure of its instrumental music. However, empirical data supporting this idea have been lacking. This has been partly due to the difficulty of developing and applying comparable quantitative measures to melody and rhythm in speech and music. This study uses a recently-developed measure for the study of speech rhythm to compare rhythmic patterns in English and French language and classical music. We find that English and French musical themes are significantly different in this measure of rhythm, which also differentiates the rhythm of spoken English and French. Thus, there is an empirical basis for the claim that spoken prosody leaves an imprint on the music of a culture.

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