Something I Read: The Music of Speech


“When we speak, we sing,” a neuroscientist on a favorite episode of Radio Lab remarks. “We use the pitch of our voice to convey meaning.”

It has been fascinating to observe these efforts (or, perhaps more accurately, the frequent lack of these efforts) with the kids. One learns how to use one’s voice, generally without consciously trying to, over time. We get to watch as they take their social cues.

Technically this is “something I heard” rather than “something I read”: This episode of the podcast Radio Lab, “Behaves So Strangely,” focuses on music, setting out to find “the ingredients of music… and why it touches us so intimately,” but begins by looking at the ways language and music are closely related.

The demonstration of this is really amazing (and that has had me humming a certain refrain for years now)—I thought it was worth sharing. If you haven’t heard Diana Deutsch’s “The Speech-to-Song Illusion,” you have to listen to the first five minutes of the “Behaves So Strangely” episode.

What makes a voice sound friendly? Do you raise your voice when you say hello? Do you vary your pitch? I’m curious, has anybody found themselves offering their kids advice on tone or pitch?

P.S. More Something I Read posts.

[Photo: Sound of Music/AP]

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