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In linguistics, pitch may refer to:

Absolute pitch is more common among speakers of tonal languages such as most dialects of Chinese or Vietnamese, which often depend on pitch variation as the means of distinguishing words that otherwise sound the same; e.g. Mandarin with four possible pitch variations, Cantonese with nine, Minnan with seven or eight (depending on dialect), and Vietnamese with six.[1][2] Speakers of Sino-Tibetan languages have been reported to speak a word in the same absolute pitch (within a quarter-tone) on different days; it has therefore been suggested that absolute pitch may be acquired by infants when they learn to speak a tonal language[3] (and possibly also by infants when they learn to speak a pitch-accent language). However, the brains of tonal-language speakers do not naturally process musical sound as language;[4] perhaps such speakers are more likely to acquire absolute pitch for musical tones when they later receive musical training. Many native speakers of a tone language, even those with little musical training, are observed to sing a given song consistently with regard to pitch. Among music students of East Asian ethnic heritage, those who speak a tone language very fluently have a much higher prevalence of absolute pitch than those who do not speak a tone language.[5][6]

It is possible that African level-tone languages—such as Yoruba,[7] with three pitch levels, and Mambila,[8] with four—may be better suited to study the role of absolute pitch in speech than the pitch and contour tone languages of East Asia.

See alsoEdit


  1. [1] D. Deutsch, T. Henthorn and M. Dolson, "Tone Language Speakers Possess Absolute Pitch", lay language version of Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 1999, 106, 2267.
  2. [2] D. Deutsch, T. Henthorn, E. Marvin and H. Xu, "Perfect Pitch in Tone Language Speakers Carries Over to Music", lay language version of Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 2005, 116, 2580.
  3. Deutsch, D., Henthorn T. and Dolson, M. (2004). Absolute pitch, speech, and tone language: Some experiments and a proposed framework. Music Perception 21 (3): 339–356.Full text
  4. Gandour, J., Wong, D., and Hutchins, G. (1998). Pitch processing in the human brain is influenced by language experience. NeuroReport 9 (9): 2115–2119.Full text
  5. Deutsch, D., Henthorn, T., Marvin, E., & Xu H-S (2006). Absolute pitch among American and Chinese conservatory students: Prevalence differences, and evidence for a speech-related critical period. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 119 (2): 719–722.Full text
  6. Deutsch, D., Dooley, K., Henthorn, T. and Head, B. (2009). Absolute pitch among students in an American music conservatory: Association with tone language fluency. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 125 (4): 2398–2403.Full text
  7. Connell, B., Ladd, D. R. (1990). Aspects of pitch realization in Yoruba. Phonology 7: 1–29.
  8. Connell, B. (2000). The perception of lexical tone in Mambila. Language and Speech 43 (2): 163–182.

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