Daily Archives: December 11, 2009 5:57 pm

Musical surprises #11: Listen long enough, and words become a melody

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We often talk about a language being ‘musical’, or a speaker having ‘sing-song’ tones when they talk. But we mean this only in a vague sense: we don’t mean that people are literally singing when they speak, just that their intonation has the quality of music.

But music psychologist¬† Diana Deutsch has illustrated an extraordinary phenomenon: speech sounds like speech until you repeat a snippet of it over and over, and after that, it’s not very long at all before you hear a melody where there was not one before.

Sometimes behave so strangely are four words from the middle of a talk on the phenomenon, which she then allows to repeat in an audio file so you can hear the illusion for yourself.