Mandarin Chinese speaks volumes in giving the young an ear for music

Ian Sample in San Diego and Faisal al Yafai
Thursday November 18, 2004
The Guardian

Scientists have discovered an unusual tip for parents who want their little darlings to grow up to be musical geniuses - teach them Mandarin Chinese.
Psychologists at the University of California in San Diego found that children who learnt Mandarin as babies were far more likely to have perfect pitch - the ability to name or sing a musical note at will - than those raised to speak English. Perfect pitch, though common among the great composers, is extremely rare in Europe and the US, where just one in 10,000 is thought to have the skill.

Diana Deutsch, who led the research, believes the explanation lies in the different use of tones in the two languages. While the meaning of English words does not change with tone, the same is not true for Mandarin and other tonal languages, such as Vietnamese, Thai, and other Chinese dialects.

For example, in Mandarin, the word ma has four meanings. Depending on tone, it can mean mother, horse, hemp, or be a reproach.,00.html