Processing melodic contour and speech intonation in congenital amusics with Mandarin Chinese

Cunmei Jiang, Jeff P Hamm, Vanessa K Lim, Ian J Kirk, Yufang Yang
Neuropsychologia 2010, 48 (9): 2630-9
Congenital amusia is a disorder in the perception and production of musical pitch. It has been suggested that early exposure to a tonal language may compensate for the pitch disorder (Peretz, 2008). If so, it is reasonable to expect that there would be different characterizations of pitch perception in music and speech in congenital amusics who speak a tonal language, such as Mandarin. In this study, a group of 11 adults with amusia whose first language was Mandarin were tested with melodic contour and speech intonation discrimination and identification tasks. The participants with amusia were impaired in discriminating and identifying melodic contour. These abnormalities were also detected in identifying both speech and non-linguistic analogue derived patterns for the Mandarin intonation tasks. In addition, there was an overall trend for the participants with amusia to show deficits with respect to controls in the intonation discrimination tasks for both speech and non-linguistic analogues. These findings suggest that the amusics' melodic pitch deficits may extend to the perception of speech, and could potentially result in some language deficits in those who speak a tonal language.

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