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Sharon Rose

Sharon Rose

NIAS fellow

Project title

African tone languages and musical pitch processing

Research question

Why do speakers of certain tone languages show a musical pitch processing advantage compared to speakers of non-tone languages, but speakers of other tone languages do not?

Project description

Tone languages use pitch to convey meaning distinctions. Research shows that speaking an East Asian tone language such as Mandarin or Cantonese confers benefits in processing musical pitch. However, recent research on Akan, an African tone language, shows no such advantage (Creel, Obiri-Yeboah & Rose 2023).

Sharon Rose researches to what this difference can be attributed. One hypothesis is the nature of the tone system. East Asian tone languages have at least four tones with contours (tones that rise and fall in pitch), whereas languages like Akan have two tones (high and low) with no contours. A second hypothesis is the nature of the musical stimuli used in experiments, which may not reflect the musical traditions of the speakers.

Rose seeks to test these hypotheses by i) extending the inquiry to other African tone languages with more complex tone systems; ii) designing musical stimuli that better approximate African musical systems; and iii) comparing non-musicians and musicians, particularly those who are trained in “speech surrogacy,” or the ability to convey language through music, such as with talking drums.

Selected publications

  • Creel, Sarah, Michael Obiri-Yeboah & Sharon Rose. 2023. Language-to-music transfer effects depends on the tone language: Akan vs. East Asian languages. Memory and Cognition.
  • Rose, Sharon, Obiri-Yeboah, Michael & Sarah Creel. 2023. Perception of ATR contrasts by Akan speakers: a case of perceptual near-merger. Laboratory Phonology 14(1).
  • Chai, Yuan, Titus Kubri Kajo Kunda, Alejandro Rodríguez & Sharon Rose. 2022. The prosody of declaratives and questions in Rere. In Haruo Kubuzono, Junko Ito & Armin Mester (eds.) Prosody and Prosodic Interfaces. Oxford University Press.