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In tune

发布时间:2019-03-07 03:05:01来源:未知点击:

By Emma Young, San Francisco From the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco We all begin life with perfect pitch, suggests study of infants. Most English speakers lose the ability to identify a note by frequency alone because perfect pitch is not necessary for understanding English words. “Our hypothesis is that the ability goes away for most of us because it’s not really useful – unless you happen to be speaking a tonal language like Thai or Mandarin,” says Jenny Saffran of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Perfect pitch is necessary for understanding the subtle differences between similar sounding words in these languages, she says. Anecdotal evidence suggests that very early musical training can aid in preserving the ability. Computer games that require a player to recognise perfect pitch might also help, Saffran says. Saffran’s team studied eight month old infants and a group of adults, some of whom were musicians. She found that all of the babies could tell the difference between segments of bell-like ‘songs’ that differed in absolute pitch, i.e. in key. However, most of the adults could not. On average, the musicians had started learning to play an instrument at age eight. But the five people in Saffran’s group with perfect pitch had started learning aged four. This, and other anecdotal evidence, suggests that perfect pitch can be retained, if the brain is trained not to lose it, she says. While perfect pitch appears to be an inherent ability, learning language as a baby requires the acquisition of many new skills. One is the ability to distinguish individual words. “One of the major challenges of learning a language is figuring out where one word begins and ends,” says Martin Brent, a computer scientist at Washington University. He has found that the words a baby hears uttered in isolation are the words it is most likely to learn by 15 months. “Short utterances lay bare the structure of language,” he says. Brent analysed more than 200 hours of conversations between eight mothers and their babies and found that the frequency with which a mother says a word in isolation is a direct predictor of whether the child will know that word later. However, he warns that as infants grow older, infants also need to hear more complex speech if they are to acquire language properly. “This doesn’t mean parents should use purely monosyllabic speech to their babies.” In fact, his research suggests that most parents naturally use the ideal combination of isolated words and more complex sentences. “My advice to parents who want to help their child learn language is: don’t worry about it. Without trying,