Musical Languages

musical languages

We are attempting to raise our son to soak up as much language as he can while he's still young and learning is easy, simple and part of life.  I learned most of my Chinese at a weekend Chinese school growing up and never practiced at home and then went on to study it in college.  This wasn't the most ideal way to learn a language and I have always envied kids that spoke another language at home- hence my constant push to make language a part of my sons childhood.  My favorite part of having my son learn at a young age is when he corrects my pronunciation or tries to teach me new words he's learned at school.  

I've also always wondered about the association between language and music and found this article that makes complete sense!  

The World's Most Musical Languages author John McWhorter writes "Mandarin Chinese, with its four tones, is a typical example. Take the word ma. If you say it the way an English-speaker would say it, just reading it sitting by itself on a page, then it means “scold.” Say ma as if you were looking for your mother—ma?—and it means “rough.” If you were just whining at her—“ma-a-a?!?”—with your voice swooping down a bit and then back up even higher, that would mean, believe it or not, “horse.” And if you say ma on a high pitch, as if you were singing the first syllable of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as ma instead of “oh” for some reason, that would actually mean mother. That’s the way almost every syllable works in Chinese.

There are certain advantages to speaking tone languages. Speakers of some African languages can communicate across long distances playing the tones on drums, and Mazatec-speakers in Mexico use whistling for the same purpose. You know those people who can hear a stray note and instantly identify its pitch, for instance recognizing that a certain car horn is an A flat? They have “absolute pitch,” and there is evidence that speakers of tone languages are more likely to have it. In one experiment, for instance, Mandarin-speaking musicians were better at identifying musical pitches than English-speaking ones. The same has been found for speakers of Cantonese—which has six or even nine tones, depending on how you count—relative to English- and French-speakers."

This explains why I'm just a decent musician and will never come close to perfect pitch.  My ears are just not as tuned into tones as my sons are.  

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