That would make a pretty grand book title wouldn't it? Dibs!
I have been thinking about the musicality of inflection patterns in day-to-day speech (previously here, here), and my friend Jason brought some new information to light on the cognition of speech and music. As it turns out, some new research is being conducted on this very phenomenon. Via New Scientist:
Diana Deutsch, a psychologist at the University of California in San Diego, first noticed the illusion in the mid-1990s when editing a recording of her own voice. One phrase - "sometimes behaves so strangely" - began to sound like a song when she replayed it several times.
Now Deutsch has confirmed that the illusion is real by testing it on proficient singers. Those played the same phrase just once and asked to repeat what they heard, spoke it back. But those who heard the phrase many times, sang it back.
The audio they mention is here.
Well, after listening to the track, I dutifully sang the phrase back. It's set to a repeat that places it comfortably in common time, and as it repeats, its melodic character certainly is enhanced. It seems as though our brains are programmed to ignore pitch as long as we're parsing syntax and grammar, but when we are no longer seeking more linguistic data, we're free to hear the sounds as music.
Does this have something to do with my great difficulty in understanding lyrics in song? Some hear them loud and clear, but I find myself consistently struggling to pull consonants and vowels out of the pitch data as I listen to new music. Likewise, I cannot seem to concentrate on studying, say, axial blood vessel configuration whilst I'm listening to music.
Regardless, these investigations open up the idea of the unperceived symphony we all are constantly humming as we buzz about our daily lives -- how much music is being created and heard but never digested? "Paging John Cage; we need you! It's a haptic music emergency!" Also, please listen to Shatner's spoken word miracles.