Tuesday, 11 Nov, 2008 Science

Scientists Observed the Transformation of Speech into Song When Repeated


A psychologist from the University of California in San Diego revealed that when a spoken phrase is repeated, it somehow transforms into a song or at least that is how human brain perceives.

For the first time Diana Deutsch noticed such illusion when, back in 1990s, she revised a recording of her own voice. She noted that the phrase "sometimes behaves so strangely" somehow morphed into a song when it was repeated several times.

After the scientist tested her theory on professional musicians, she proved that the illusion is real. When the phrase was repeated several times, people started singing it back. The track is available here .

It is worth mentioning that the illusion occurs only in case the phrase is repeated exactly the same way, without any change.

"It brings to the fore a real mystery - why don't we hear speech as song all the time?" said Deutsch.

The psychologist believes that human brain usually holds back musical signals when hearing speech, so that people pay attention only to interpreting the words. However, when the heard words are repeated, our brain sometimes overrides this. Deutsch mentioned that a repeated phrase stops the inhibition of the pitch area in our brain, thus we hear song, which is, in fact, what we should be hearing in the first place.

She will discuss her discovery next week at a meeting, arranged by the Acoustical Society of America, which will take place in Miami, Florida. Currently Deutsch's team is applying MRI scans to identify the areas of the brain that light up when people notice the shift from speech to song.

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44 votes

//8 Aug 07, 2009 02:05 AM | posted by: RHK
Steve Reich and other composers used this phenomena long before this study was ever conducted. I believe Brian Eno wrote an essay about it in the 70s.
45 votes

//7 Aug 06, 2009 07:55 PM | posted by: mudley
I've noticed this before, when watching "Earth Girls are Easy", Jeff Goldblum's character is watching some old movie, and exactly repeats after a character when they say "Whaddaya say, hmmm?", making the phrase very song-like when he repeats it.

Also, now i can't get Diana Deutsch's voice out of my head like a really catchy, but annoying song.
49 votes

//6 Aug 06, 2009 06:57 AM | posted by: harry
Interesting and I would believe it to be true just as I think the brain will interpret these pitches and bend them to close to what we determine to be musical notes. Because people in the western culture here essentially hear 12/13 notes in an octave our brain could perceive the pitch to change by a larger margin than middle eastern culture participants. Those who hear 20,30, sometimes 40 notes in a musical octave might not have to do so much pitch bending. Although the same phenomena might still take place.
41 votes

//5 Aug 04, 2009 10:23 PM | posted by: passthemuffins
how about the fact that the experiment was done on professional musicians? not quite generalizable.
39 votes

//4 Aug 04, 2009 02:32 PM | posted by: Phil E. Drifter
Photoshopped sounds, duh.
50 votes

//3 Jul 15, 2009 10:56 AM | posted by: Charles Stover
Uhh... duh? When the speech is being repeated exactly, it has the same ups and downs. I'm not at all savvy on musical terminology. The pitch, stressed syllables, etc. DJs do this all the time with famous speeches - repeat certain phrases.
What makes something a song is it's repetitiveness. Every chorus sounds the same. It has the same notes and the same words spoken in the same way.
It isn't going to be mindblowing music to repeat a phrase, but repetition is still musical.
52 votes

//2 Jul 15, 2009 03:56 AM | posted by: Annie Mosienko
I wonder if this has something to do with the fact that those people who have severe stutters can easily sing the message they are trying to communicate.
50 votes

//1 Nov 12, 2008 11:41 AM | posted by: alcotrazz [InfoMANIAC]
interesting reading... but sound 'somehow' not scientific... i mean the part "...when a spoken phrase is repeated, it somehow transforms into a song or at least that is how human brain perceives"...

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