Rhythm and Grammar in Children – Video abstract for Gordon et al, 2014

June 14, 2019

a number of recent studies have shown that in children and adults music abilities are associated with enhanced language skills but most of that work has focused on the relation between music and sensitivity to speech sounds or music and reading skills but we had good reason to believe that rhythm would be related to grammar in part because of prior studies showing that certain children with the type of language disorder that's characterized by grammatical deficits also show problems processing rhythm in speech and in music and we know that in people with normal language when sentences have predictable timing it facilitates the detection of grammatical anomalies so we were wondering if some basic rhythm perception skills could explain some of the individual differences in grammatical abilities during normal language development so we brought six year olds with typical language development who had little to no music training into the lab to participate in our study they did – rhythm discrimination tests one of which is a standardized test of music aptitude the primary measures of music audition the children were asked to judge of two melodies which are either identical or differ slightly in their rhythm are the same or different the second test the beat base advantage assessment was a computer game that was developed the children of your character play rhythms and then they have to decide if the third rhythm was the same or different as the previous two rhythms either as twin we're sandy or his friend doggie we'll also labor them on his job sandy seemed likes to be a copycat and always plays dogging different doesn't want to copy so he always wants a different rhythm back to me in this game it is your job to figure out if it is sandy saying or doggy different playing is drawn back to Randy drummer to test children's grammar skills we use the structured photographic expressive language test the children were shown a variety of photographs and the experimenter used specific questions to elicit a particular morphosyntactic response the boy's kite is set in the tree what does he need to do we found a strong correlation between rhythm perception and grammar production remember that the tasks were quite different one measured perception of musical rhythms and the other measured sentence production so it was especially striking to note that children who were better at telling musical rhythms apart were also better at the expressive grammar test the effects were still there when we took into account IQ music experience and socioeconomic status so music rhythm perception still predicted 48 percent of the variance in grammar once we controlled for those alternative factors results coincide with findings from other studies that have shown shared neural resources for processing rhythm and grammar here we found a robust association between performance on two tasks that were strikingly different in their stimuli and instructions so one of the important clinical applications that emerge from this study is that because rhythm accounts for a large portion of individual differences in grammar perhaps rhythm should be taken into account when grammar skills are measured in other studies or clinical evaluations as well in general though we're not saying that kids necessarily have to be super accomplished musicians in order to have good language skills but it's the ability to notice differences in rhythms that seems to translate into correct grammar production to interpret these results it's helpful to think about what rhythm does so in speech rhythmic variations help the listener to focus attention on important parts of the speech signal in real time and to parse up that signal into smaller chunks that carry meaning one possible interpretation of our findings is that children who are better at detecting variations in the timing of music are also better at to in two variations in speech rhythm that mark grammatical events and therefore have an advantage during their acquisition of language going forward it will be important to look at whether music training can improve grammar skills and if so by what mechanisms for more information about the study please check out our article in developmental science

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1 Comment

  • Reply Patrick Horgan June 14, 2019 at 9:08 am

    That's exciting. I wonder if my teachers in elementary school helped my grammatical ability by having us march and use clap blocks and sticks in kindergarten and first grade. Also, if you happen to actually read this, I wonder about recent research into audio processing disorder. I'm 60, and have all the typical symptoms, i.e. it is hard for me to get the meaning from speech in a noisy environment or over a low band width connection like a phone. (I never knew lyrics to popular sounds unless I saw them written and wondered how people did it.) As a child I was referred for hearing tests several times for this, but of course my hearing was always perfect. I play guitar and read music and love chats in a low noise non-echoey environment and have above average reading and language and vocabulary (and I.Q., 130 on Stanford-Binet), but still I am curious about audio processing disorder. Someone once told me that early Suzuki method musical training can offset the effects. Is is true? Is anyone researching this? Have a great day, and thanks:)

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