Language experience influences non-linguistic pitch perception

Gang Peng, Diana Deutsch, Trevor Henthorn, Danjie Su, William Shi Yuan Wang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Following publication of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, evidence has accumulated for the influence of language experience on perception. There are thousands of languages in the world which make use of pitch patterns to construct words much as vowels and consonants are used, among which Mandarin (a.k.a. Putonghua) is a typical tone language. This study examines the effect of language experience (tone language experience vs. nontone language experience) on non-linguistic pitch perception. First, we show a significantly higher prevalence of absolute pitch among native tone-language-speaking music students than among nontone-language-speaking music students. Moreover, we show that language experience shapes the perception of tone sweeps, extending the influence of language prototypes from the linguistic domain to the non-linguistic domain. Taken together, these results demonstrate that language experience affects auditory perception, and so provide evidence for the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in the auditory modality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)447-467
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Chinese Linguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Absolute pitch
  • Pitch perception Tone language
  • Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
  • Tone sweep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Linguistics and Language


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