Cultural Intonation Cultural Differences in Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

2009). Other studies had previously concluded that English infants developed a preference for trochaic words, the dominant stress construct of English words, over iambic stress patterns within the first year of life (Hohle et al. 2009). A comparison of German and Frecnh infants in four distinct experiments confirms and even narrows down the timeframe in which this differentiation of preference occurs, and also shows (through the French language experiments) that the ability to distinguish the two opposing stress patterns does not necessarily result in the development of preference, if the target language itself lacks a dominant stress structure (Hohle et al. 2009). Even at six months, a specific language begins to mediate perception.

An earlier study suggests that the timing of stress and intonation preference development is even sooner than six months. While citing evidence suggesting that language-independent phonetic contrasts and melodic variations are recognized within the first four months of life, while language-specific recognition does not begin until after six months, Frederici et al. (2007) shows (also using German and French infants) that stress recognition is definitely language specific by four months of age. Measurements of brain activity were taken that showed a clear spike when stress patterns of each infants' target language were heard, as compared to opposing stress patterns (Frederici et al. 2007). This shows not only a cognitive preference for language, but also a neurological one in infants as young as four months old.

Arciuli & Slowiaczek (2007) delve deeper into the neurological basis and mechanisms of language processing and stress preference, studying brain activity in adult subjects when confronted with various word-naming and recognizing tasks. The researchers found that stress typicality effects -- the recognition and response to different stress patterns -- arose only in the left hemisphere of the brain, though language processing as a whole requires portions of both hemispheres (Arciuli & Slowiaczek 2007). The results of this study results led the researchers to the tentative conclusions that stress patterns might actually come prior to lexical access in the process of word recognition, limiting the number of available words before other sounds are even considered, and that prosody and grammar are inextricably linked in the language processing system (Arciuli & Slowiaczek 2007). This provides even more compelling evidence for the link between the cognitive mechanisms of language and means of cultural identification and expression.

As extensions of basic biological constructs, the neurological factors underlying language are, of course, universal across cultures. For this reason, many behavioral scientists have come to the conclusion that the acquisition of language occurs at the same pace and by the same mechanisms in all cultures (Wyatt 2007). Social avenues for the learning and reinforcement of language are shown to be largely the same, and combined with the neurological and cognitive factors that are essentially universal to all of humanity, language development does indeed appear o have the same basis and impetus across cultures (Wyatt 2007). At the same time, linguistic differences between cultures utilize these mechanisms differently, and result in different cognitive patterns becoming more easily utilized by adult speakers of a given language (Wyatt 2007). The cultural similarities in the acquisition of language and the development of language learning skills, that is, are offset by the cultural differences in the ultimate use and processing of language; language has a commo basis, but not result.

Because of this, language has been shown a statistically significant measure of ethnic identity (Laroche et al. 2009). Though this may seem to be an incredibly simplistic conclusion on the surface, the fact that language has been proven a valid construct of ethnic identity shows the fundamentality of language to ethnicity and other measures/boundaries of culture (Laroche et al. 2009). Though long used as a conscious means of distinguishing between various groups of people, the scientific finding of linguistic differences as primary markers of culture is truly significant.


The findings of the literature review conducted for this paper break down into three primary categories: cultural differences in stress and intonation patterns in spoken language and the effects they have on the ability to gain fluency in other languages, the timing and progression of stress pattern differentiation in the development of language skills, and the deeper understanding of the cognitive and neurological basis for language skills. Research has shown that there is a clear cementing of stress pattern and intonation recognition and preference that remains only slightly malleable in adulthood (Chapman 2007; Nguyen et al. 2008; Zhang et al. 2008). Difficulties in language learning and spoken fluency is largely a matter of stress pattern incompatibility between the native and target languages (Chapman 2007; Nguyen et al. 2008; Zhang et al. 2008). Furthermore, language differences account for a great deal of the differentiation in ethnic identification, even within linguistic groups (Laroche et al. 2009).

When it comes to the timing and progression of stress recognition, the studies reviewed show a clear and early differentiation in the stress patterns recognized and shown preference for that breaks down along linguistic lines (Frederici et al. 2007; Hohle et al. 2009). At six or even four months of age, infants have already begun to show a preference for stress patterns common to their native languages, and these preferences continue into adulthood often at the exclusion of equitable recognition of other patterns suggesting a cognitive hindrance to the later adaptation of stress recognition among previously non-preferential stress patterns (Frederici et al. 2007; Hohle et al. 2009; Chapman 2007). When children achieve literacy, stress sensitivity has been strongly correlated with reading proficiency, showing a strong connection between stress recognition and future cognitive development (Gutierrez-Palma et al. 2009).

The neurological and cognitive underpinnings of language and its relationship to culture are the most complex findings of this paper. It has been demonstrated that, despite the quickly developed and eventually engrained differences in the recognition and processing of spoken language, the process by which language is learned is universal among humans (Wyatt, 2007). That being said, the differences in results in the early processes of language development can lead to significant differences in the later processing of spoken language due to the link between stress and other aspects of language such as grammar and syntax (Turk & Shattuck-Hufnagel 2007; Arciuli & Slowiaczek 2007). There is also evidence that stress pattern recognition and preference is the initial response to language in the ordering of brain processes, and could possibly have stronger interpretative implications than previously thought (Arciuli & Slowiaczek 2007).


The lack of research concerning the relationship between the cognitive and cultural aspects of spoken language, and of the effect stress patterns have both on overall cognitive processing and the ability to communicate across cultures, has necessitated a broad review of related research topics in order to develop a rudimentary and preliminary understanding of the relationship. The conclusions drawn here, then, are inferences at best, and must be supported with future research before they can be fully validated. An understanding of many of the underlying principles of both the cultural and cognitive aspects of language provides fertile ground for consideration, however.

One of the most obvious implications of current research into the differences in stress recognition in spoken languages is the fundamental hindrance this can provide to communication. The difficulty in learning a foreign language with stress patterns significantly different from one's native language has been noted in several studies (e.g. Chapman 2007; Nguyen et al. 2008; Zhang et al. 2008). A large part of stress pattern recognition has to do with the qualitative information being communicated by a specific utterance; the stress pattern divide can lead to confusions in this aspect, making intercultural communication more difficult. Furthermore, there is strong evidence that stress patterns mediate the quantitative meaning of individual words and syntactical units, which doubtless adds more of a hindrance to communication between native speakers of two different languages or even two notably different dialects of the same language (Arciuli & Slowiaczek 2007; Turk & Shattuck-Hufnagel 2007). Though this might appear a foregone conclusion, the research shows that this is far more profound than an auditory disconnect, but a true inability to fully apprehend language with unfamiliar stress patterns.

The fact that reading proficiency has been significantly linked to stress sensitivity adds credence to the assertion that stress and intonation patterns are fundamental in the mediation of meaning during spoken communication (Gutierrez-Palma et al. 2009). Differences in cognitive ability, in this view, are not the result of different processes but simply greater sensitivity and efficiency in the use of universal cognitive and neurological mechanisms. As reading comprehension improves with stress sensitivity, it stands to reason that foreign language learning and general intercultural communication would also be better effected by those with a greater capacity for differentiating between various familiar and strange stress patterns. At some point, this…

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