Nov 17th: Distinguished Lecture Series: Aniruddh Patel

LaMERG FALL 2015 proudly presents our Distinguished Lecture Series!

Speaker: Aniruddh Patel, Tuesday Nov. 17th, 6pm in Psychology Building A, Room 109

“Can nonlinguistic musical training change the way the brain processes speech?”
Aniruddh Patel

Tufts University

Mounting evidence suggests that musical training is associated with enhancements in certain aspects of speech processing (e.g., hearing speech in noise, prosody perception, and second language phonological abilities).   Are these benefits caused by musical training, or is this merely a case of correlation without causation?  If they are caused by training, how and why would such transfer effects occur? In this talk I will discuss recent evidence for associations between musical training and speech perception abilities, and lay out a theoretical framework which can explain how and why learning a musical instrument could impact speech processing.

Refreshments will be served in a minor key

New Semester, New event!

Hi everyone,
The Language, Music and Emotion Research Group (LaMERG) is back!

We are delighted to announce our first lecture of the semester, by Philippe Schlenker from Institut Jean-Nicod, CNRS in Paris and NYU.
The talk will be held Wed. Sept. 9 at 6:00 pm in SBS S-207 (Linguistics Seminar Room).  Minor key refreshments will be served.

Prolegomena to a Music Semantics”
by Philippe Schlenker (Institut Jean-Nicod, CNRS; New York University)
While it is almost uncontroversial that music is subject to ‘syntactic rules’ (although not necessarily related to those we find in language), it is initially very unclear that music has ‘meaning’ in anything like the usual sense. We sketch a conceptual framework in which music can be taken to have meaning and even truth conditions. But their source is very different from that of meaning in language; normal auditory cognition is much a better model for musical meaning than language is.
Hope to see you there!

Lecture Series Continues (Tomorrow!)

Our next LaMERG talk will be given by our own John F. Bailyn, on Tuesday, April 14th, at 5:30pm in the Linguistics Seminar Room.

All are welcome!

Language, music, fire and chess
John Frederick Bailyn

Linguistics Seminar Room (SBS S-207).

5:30pm, Tuesday, April 14th

In his influential 2006 book Music, Language and the Brain, Patel makes the following unexpected constructivist claim about the evolution of music: “there is no compelling evidence that music represents an evolutionary adaptation.”  Rather, Patel compares the universality of music across all human cultures to that of the ability to use fire, which all human cultures also share, but which in and of itself not an evolutionary adaptation. He also compares the cognitive complexity of music to chess playing, which is “a complex cognitive ability that is unique to our species, but which has not been the target of natural selection.” Patel’s constructivist claim about music evolution is all the more startling when taken in contrast to his strongly adaptionist view of the evolution of language: he provides “10 lines of evidence that I find … most compelling in favor of a direct role for natural selection in the evolution of language” and then attempts to refute such evidence for music.

In the first part of this talk, I review in detail Patel’s claimed and implied distinctions between language and music, and show that in every relevant aspect, music shares the properties attributed to language and does not in fact have the expected properties of cultural inventions such as fire or chess. In the second part, I provide a plausible co-evolution story for language and music based primarily on the work of cognitive archeologists Steven Mithen and Iain Morley, which also allows me to address some aspects of the current modularity debate surrounding these two highly complex systems.

Lecture series continues Dec. 10

Our monthly lecture series continues Wednesday Dec. 10 at 5:00 pm, in the Linguistics Department Seminar Room (SBS S-207).  We are delighted to welcome Prof. John Drury from the Stony Brook’s Linguistics Department.

Music, Language, Math, and Visual Narrative:
In Search of Shared/Distinct Neurocognitive Mechanisms

John E. Drury[1]

(with N. Calma[2], D. Finer[1], J.F. Bailyn[1], N. Cohn[3], B. Slevc[4], L. Staum-Casasanto[5])

[1] Department of Linguistics, Stony Brook University
[2] Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University
[3] Institute for Neural Computation, University of California, San Diego
[4] Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park
[5] Department of Linguistics, University of Chicago


Any short-list of what makes humans special in the biological world arguably must make reference to: (i) language, (ii) music, (iii) precise number and mathematics, and (iv) visual narrative (i.e., our ability to extract a story from sequences of images). Electrophysiological research has found superficially similar brain response profiles for analogous types of stimulus manipulations across these domains. Further, studies examining language and music together have offered data consistent with overlap of at least some of the underlying processing circuitry. Such cross-domain studies have made it clear that we have much to gain by examining systems like language and music together. However, a broader look at recent work examining language, music, and number/math reveals a number of conflicting findings and unresolved puzzles, with some data pointing to overlapping mechanisms and other data suggesting there are distinct mechanisms at work across these domains. In ongoing ERP studies we examine visual processing of comics, sentences, and number sequences with simultaneous auditory presentation of music (chord progressions) to investigate patterns of processing interference across these domains. In this talk I’ll present some preliminary data which already show considerable promise for efforts to identify/individuate brain response profiles with respect to whether they may index shared (domain general) versus distinct (domain specific) underlying mechanisms