Native language, L2 experience, and pitch processing in music

Chen, A., Çetinçelik, M., Roncaglia-Denissen, M. P., & Sadakata, M. (2023). Native language, L2 experience, and pitch processing in music. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 13(2), 218-237. doi:10.1075/lab.20030.che.
The current study investigated how the role of pitch in one’s native language and L2 experience influenced musical melodic processing by testing Turkish and Mandarin Chinese advanced and beginning learners of English as an L2. Pitch has a lower functional load and shows a simpler pattern in Turkish than in Chinese as the former only contrasts between presence and the absence of pitch elevation, while the latter makes use of four different pitch contours lexically. Using the Musical Ear Test as the tool, we found that the Chinese listeners outperformed the Turkish listeners, and the advanced L2 learners outperformed the beginning learners. The Turkish listeners were further tested on their discrimination of bisyllabic Chinese lexical tones, and again an L2 advantage was observed. No significant difference was found for working memory between the beginning and advanced L2 learners. These results suggest that richness of tonal inventory of the native language is essential for triggering a music processing advantage, and on top of the tone language advantage, the L2 experience yields a further enhancement. Yet, unlike the tone language advantage that seems to relate to pitch expertise, learning an L2 seems to improve sound discrimination in general, and such improvement exhibits in non-native lexical tone discrimination.
Publication type
Journal article
Publication date

Share this page