Music and Mandarin: Differences in the Cognitive Processing of Tonality

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This thesis questioned whether the semantic and syntactic information of Mandarin words utilise similar processing resources as musical stimuli of matching pitch. Utilising Mandarin fourth tone (tone 4) and neutral tone (tone 5) words and extracted pitch contours modified to act as musical stimuli, EEGs were performed on fourteen participants who were either native speakers of Mandarin Chinese (n=9) or Dutch (n=5), as well as behavioral tests of tonal perception. It was hypothesised that 1) the native Mandarin speaking participants would demonstrate stronger N400 for tone 4 and a stronger P600 for tone 5, that exposure to linguistic and musical stimuli as presented in this testing paradigm will result in ERP data which has similar but significantly distinguishable features, and 3) that native Mandarin speaking participants would be significantly more accurate at pitch differentiation than Dutch participants. Dutch participants were expected to show either weaker or inconsequential effects. Analysis of the ERP components N400, P600, and P200 failed to reach statistical significance due to the small sample size, but indicated potential emergent trends which may be confirmed by continuation of the study on a larger participant pool. Comparison of the grand averages did not confirm the first hypothesis, finding that tone 5 elicited a stronger N400 and tone 4 a stronger P600 effect. The difference between linguistic and musical stimuli was found to be practically indistinguishable at N400, but a much stronger P600 effect was found for musical stimuli. Behavioral tests confirmed the third hypothesis of higher pitch differentiation ability among the native Mandarin speaking participants.
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