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Biology 103
2001 First Web Report
On Serendip

MUSIC, LANGUAGE, AND THE BRAIN

Debbie Wang

Music-the art of arranging the sounds of voices or instruments or both in a pleasing sequence or combination.

Language-words and their use

(Oxford American Dictionary-copyright 1980 Oxford University Press, Inc)

The earliest signs of music were found in France and Slovenia in the form of 53,000 year old flutes made by Neandertals out of animal bones. Many have speculated that the existence of humans making music came long before language itself. (1) It is apparent that the role that music takes in cultures and societies has a large impact and expresses much about its people. The effects of these varying combinations of tones, pitches, contours, rhythms, and sounds as physical stimuli to the brain is in itself, varying.

Even though the field of biomusicology is relatively young, there has been much debate over the significance of the brain's process of music to the brain's process of language. The opposition lies in whether music can be interpreted in designated parts of the brain, away from language processing, or whether both language and music are always interlinked in certain areas of brain.

Some debate that "[music] is clearly different from language" and that the two are distinctly and always separated with claims that some who have lost language abilities still have their musical abilities and vice versa. From this they state, "this shows that music and language are processed independently" and are handled in different parts of the brain. Several experiments were conducted in which the perception of key and contour, and rhythm was observed in those who had one part of their temporal removed for epilepsy in which the results placed a labeling of dominance on the brain's hemispheres for music and language.. (2).

In other studies that have designated certain hemispheres with musical dominance and language dominance, there is a constant, careful comparison between the differences in brain activity. These studies look at how the brain reacts (in addition to the locale of the reaction) to stimulations brought on my language uses and music uses. It is noted that the brain's reaction to music is similar to that of the brains reaction to language (however different in locations where reactions occurred). An example is used in which subjects who have lost their sense of speech communicate through song. (4).

On the other hand, Mario Vaneechoutte writes of the direct correlations between music and language by their distinctions. He takes into account the relationship that music has to language and language to music- what makes speaking distinct from song and his observations of song before speech in children by use of melody. (3) The journal of Nature Neuroscience connects findings that areas of the brain which process music called the Broca's area (above the ear) to an area that deals with speech and language as well. Even though the location on the brain is identified as similar for both language and music, psychologist Burkhard Maess mentions that the locale is not an indication of similar functioning processes. (5).

Because so little is truly known about the functions about the brain, it is difficult to make any final assessments on the truth behind music and language. There has been much discussion on identifying and designating the distinct differences and similarities between music and language, but there has not been much discussion on the identifications of music and language themselves. The terms music and language in the sources were all seen as very separated, disassociated expressions.

. There has not been much questioning or delving into of comparing languages that require distinct tones and rhythms with that of music. Certain languages such as the Chinese language have stronger stresses on contours than others. A change in contour could change the whole meaning of a word and therefore is very specific in use. Does this make the language more musical? How could that be assessed in the music vs. language debate? In my opinion, there is a very thin line between language and music, which could be further discussed and analyzed. In order to better understand the reactions and processes of nature, such as within the brain, we should firstly try to understand that which humans have given such differentiator labels to.

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WWW Sources

1) Exploring the Musical Brain ,

2) The Biology of Music ,

3) The Musical Primate ,

4) Research Shows Correlation Between Music and Language Mechanisms ,

5) Brain Processes Music like Language ,




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