I’ve been following Diana Deutsch’s work for some years and had been really intrigued with her studies done on speakers of tonal languages (e.g. Mandarin, Vietnamese, and my native Thai) and the seemingly higher proportion of individuals with so-called “Perfect Pitch” (long considered to be a genetic rarity). Here’s a recent article chronicling her work.
The study described by the following was very interesting:
Deutsch then set out to investigate perfect pitch in music. In 2004, she found that students at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China, all of whom spoke Mandarin, were almost nine times more likely to have perfect pitch than students at the Eastman School of Music in New York.
and as the article says, “That last study, however, left open the question of whether perfect pitch might be a genetic trait – since all the Mandarin speakers were East Asian.”
So the follow up is described:
The present study looked at 203 students at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, all of whom agreed to take the test in class (so there was no self-selection in the sample).
Deutsch and her colleagues found that students who spoke an East Asian tone language very fluently scored nearly 100 percent on the test, and that students who were only fairly fluent in a tone language scored lower overall.
Those students – either Caucasian or East Asian – who were not at all fluent in speaking a tone language scored the worst on average, said an UCSD release.
These findings were published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.
I guess I’ll have to go find this article now!