ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2022, Vol. 54 ›› Issue (9): 1021-1030.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2022.01021

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The cross-domain influence of tonal categorical perception and tonal complexity on musical pitch perception

LI Xianzhuo1,2, XIAO Rong2, LIANG Dandan2,3   

  1. 1International College for Chinese Studies, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210097, China
    2School of Chinese Language and Literature, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210097, China
    3Interdisciplinary Research Center for Linguistic Science, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei 230051, China
  • Published:2022-09-25 Online:2022-07-21


Pitch is a fundamental acoustic property shared by both language and music. However, there are different views on the processing of tonal pitch and musical pitch. Some studies support the “modularity view”, suggesting that tonal pitch and musical pitch are represented separately. In contrast, more studies support the “shared domain-general view”, implying that there are commonalities in the processing of tonal pitch and musical pitch based on their physical similarities. The existing studies have mostly focused on domain-general pitch transfer; nonetheless, they have not considered domain specificity of the tonal pitch as a linguistic element. Hence, it remains unclear whether domain-specific factors, such as categorical perception and complexity of different tonal language experiences on speakers’ pitch processing, play a role in musical pitch perception.
To address the above issues, ninety participants were involved in the experiment, including 30 native speakers of Mandarin Chinese (with a relatively simple tone system), 30 native speakers of Vietnamese (with a relatively complex tone system), and 30 native speakers of Russian (nonpitched control group). A 3 (group: Vietnamese vs. Chinese vs. Russian) × 2 (stimulus type: speech vs. music) between-and-within-subjects design was used. A continuum from [i?] (closed for Yinping in Chinese and Transverse in Vietnamese) to [i??] (closed for Yangping in Chinese and Acute in Vietnamese) and its musical counterpart was constructed (see Figure 1). Participants were first tested in an ABX identification task to determine whether the stimulus X was similar to A or B and then an AX discrimination task to decide whether the two stimuli in the pair were identical. The experiment was performed in E-prime 3.0.
Identification and discrimination curves are shown in Figure 2 and Figure 3 respectively. The corresponding indicators are shown in Table 1 and Table 2.
Repeated measures ANOVA tests were conducted on identification indicators(b1 and Wcb) and discrimination indicators(Pwc, Pbc and Ppk) separately.
In the identification task, the main effect of group was significant in the slope of the identification curve, F(2, 87) = 58.09, p < 0.001, η2p = 0.57. The interaction effect between stimulus type and group was significant, F(2, 87) = 3.29, p = 0.042. Simple effect analysis showed that the Chinese group and the Vietnamese group were significantly better than the Russian group in terms of speech stimuli. The main effect of group was significant in the boundary width, F(2, 87) = 3.40, p = 0.038, η2p = 0.07. Post hoc analyses showed that the Chinese and Vietnamese groups were not significantly different, but both were significantly narrower than the Russian group.
In the discrimination task, the main effect of group was significant in the within-category sensitivity (F(2, 87) = 4.95, p = 0.009, η2p = 0.10), between-category sensitivity (F(2, 87) = 8.27, p = 0.001, η2p = 0.16) and peakedness (F(2, 87) = 8.80, p < 0.001, η2p = 0.17). Post hoc analyses all showed that the Chinese and Vietnamese groups were significantly better than the Russian group, and the differences between the Chinese and Vietnamese groups were not significant.
The results showed that (1) both the Chinese and Vietnamese groups showed categorical perception for language and music pitches. There were no differences between language and music stimuli in category boundary width, within-category discrimination rate, between-category discrimination rate, or discrimination peak for either group. The Russian group’s identification curve did not show abrupt shifts, and their discrimination curve was relatively flat with multiple peaks, indicating a continuous pattern significantly different from the two tonal language groups. (2) There were no significant differences between the Vietnamese group and the Chinese group in either the within-category discrimination rate or the between-category discrimination rate.
The experimental results suggest that at the behavioral level, the pattern of native tonal categorical perception can transfer to musical pitch perception, but tonal complexity does not facilitate cross-domain musical pitch perception. The findings of this study support the “shared domain-general view” in terms of the influence of language on musical pitch processing.

Key words: categorical perception, pitch, tone, music