Academic journal article Psychomusicology

"Music, Language, and the Brain" by Aniruddh D. Patel

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

"Music, Language, and the Brain" by Aniruddh D. Patel

Article excerpt

"Music, Language, and the Brain" by Aniruddh D. Patel "Music, Language, and the Brain" by Aniruddh D. Patel. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008). (ISBN13: 9780199755301, ISBNlO: 0199755302, Paperback, 520 pages, $35.00).

The book starts by reminding us that the interest in music-language relations is over 2000 years old (going back to Plato) and has now led cognitive scientists to ask how the brain deals with these two domains: Are cognitive and neural correlates domain-specific or common to music and language processing? Patel's aim is to look systematically at various aspects of both domains and to present similarities and differences between the two systems. The emphasis, however, is on the search for commonalities: Even if fhe two systems have specific features and representations, he analyzes the extent to which these differences might reflect the same domain-general processes. In searching for commonalities rather than differences in processing mechanisms, Patel's comparative study of music and language investigates how the brain makes "sense out of sound" (p. 417) in a parsimonious way (e.g., by sharing structural processing and separating representations). While this represents Patel's favored approach, he also reviews research showing domain-specificity and attempts to integrate these data in a framework of shared processing. A metaphor illustrates this when he discusses dissociations in patients showing selective music and language deficits (see p. 73) : If a factory manufacturing both cars and motorcycles catches fire that damages only one warehouse (e.g., fhe one for cars) , this does not tell us anything about the overlap in tools used for the construction of both vehicles. Patel's book reviews research and approaches to investigate the possible overlap in cognitive and neural correlates of music and language processing.

The book provides a thorough state-of-theart review of recent studies and ongoing debates on music, language, and the brain. Patel presents emerging questions and new studies that provide at least partial answers or add new questions, stimulating future research. He communicates his curiosity and interest in studying music and language processing to understand how the brain deals with structured sound systems.

The book is organized to start with small units (i.e., sound categories, Chapter 2), goes on to discuss larger structural regularities (based on pitch and time respectively, Chapters 3 and 4) , which leads to syntactic structures (Chapter 5) and then ends with questions related to meaning (Chapter 6) and evolution (Chapter 7). Avoiding the pitfall of superficial analogies between music and language, Patel is careful with definitions and restrictions of his discussions and interpretations: He does not attempt to be all-encompassing, aiming for precision rather than vague generalization. For example, the book focuses on instrumental music and ordinary spoken language, a choice justified for the investigation of common cognitive and neural mechanisms. At appropriate places, the book also includes "interludes" that focus on other art forms, such as sung music and poetry (Chapters 3 and 6) , when this serves the purpose of understanding brain function.

Before starting an overview of the chapters, it is worth underlining the book's merit in balancing the Western-centric approach, which is dominating the research domains of music and language, with the presentation of numerous examples and crossreferences to music and language of other cultures. This emphasizes that general hypotheses on music and language processing have to apply also to other cultural systems (see also Stevens & Byron, 2008).

Each chapter has a similar structure: After an introduction, two sections focus on music and speech, respectively, while making comparisons wifh the other system. A third section then discusses the specific aspects that might provide links between the two systems. …

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