Research Topic

Relationship of Language and Music, Ten Years After: Neural Organization, Cross-domain Transfer and Evolutionary Origins

About this Research Topic

Both language and music are evolutionarily old and ubiquitous in human cultures. Conventionally studied as two separate domains, language and music share close parallels such as the use of basic acoustic attributes like pitch and duration, the presence of complex hierarchical structures and the ability to elicit and communicate emotions in people. These parallels have evoked important questions regarding the neural organization of language and music, the cross-domain transfer between them, and their evolutionary relationship. However, the language-music remains controversial. While some theories hold that language and music are two separate domains with minimal influence from each other, others posit that language and music share processing resources and may even have descended from a common evolutionary origin. Early genetic studies have shown that FOXP2 gene is directly implicated in the etiology of speech and language disorders and song birds with reduced brain FOXP2 expression have problems with learning songs.

The advance of neuroimaging techniques, genetic analyses, and emerging new evidence have provided a timely opportunity to revisit the language-music relationship. There has been mounting evidence for the cross-domain transfer of language and music, such as the benefit of musicianship, musical training or musical therapy on certain aspects of language processing, learning or recovery, and the negative impact of musical disorder on certain aspects of language processing, which exemplifies the music-to-language transfer. In the other direction (language-to-music), it has been found that tonal language experience boosts certain aspects of musical abilities. However, many issues remain unresolved, especially the mechanism and neural underpinning of such transfer. The neural organization of language and music also remains controversial. Traditionally, language and music are believed to predominantly involve the left and right hemisphere respectively, but there is evidence that their neural circuitries partially overlap. Subcortically, long-term experience with language and music similarly enhances sensory processing and the benefit appears to transfer between the two domains. Furthermore, certain processes in music are found to recruit the same brain processes and regions involved in language processing. Nonetheless, refined analysis of focal brain regions has reported substantial non-overlap between the processing of language and music.

In this Research Topic, we welcome contributions that address the relationship of language and music from a wide range of perspectives, including but not limited to evolutionary biology, genetics, behavioral sciences, cognitive neuroscience, and musicology, in a wide range of participants from children to the elderly, from healthy individuals to individuals with acquired or developmental disorders of music or language, and in diverse language contexts, including tonal and non-tonal languages. Studies that elucidate the fine-grained overlap and non-overlap of language and music processing from subcortical to cortical neural circuitries will also be welcome. We encourage authors to submit empirical research, systematic reviews and meta-analysis, case studies, or papers with new theoretical perspectives. We hope these contributions will generate new insights into the cognitive, neural, genetic and evolutionary relationship of language and music.

This article collection is a follow up of a Research Topic The relationship between music and language launched in Frontiers in Psychology in 2011.


Keywords: language, music, neural organization, genetics, evolution, cross-domain transfer


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Both language and music are evolutionarily old and ubiquitous in human cultures. Conventionally studied as two separate domains, language and music share close parallels such as the use of basic acoustic attributes like pitch and duration, the presence of complex hierarchical structures and the ability to elicit and communicate emotions in people. These parallels have evoked important questions regarding the neural organization of language and music, the cross-domain transfer between them, and their evolutionary relationship. However, the language-music remains controversial. While some theories hold that language and music are two separate domains with minimal influence from each other, others posit that language and music share processing resources and may even have descended from a common evolutionary origin. Early genetic studies have shown that FOXP2 gene is directly implicated in the etiology of speech and language disorders and song birds with reduced brain FOXP2 expression have problems with learning songs.

The advance of neuroimaging techniques, genetic analyses, and emerging new evidence have provided a timely opportunity to revisit the language-music relationship. There has been mounting evidence for the cross-domain transfer of language and music, such as the benefit of musicianship, musical training or musical therapy on certain aspects of language processing, learning or recovery, and the negative impact of musical disorder on certain aspects of language processing, which exemplifies the music-to-language transfer. In the other direction (language-to-music), it has been found that tonal language experience boosts certain aspects of musical abilities. However, many issues remain unresolved, especially the mechanism and neural underpinning of such transfer. The neural organization of language and music also remains controversial. Traditionally, language and music are believed to predominantly involve the left and right hemisphere respectively, but there is evidence that their neural circuitries partially overlap. Subcortically, long-term experience with language and music similarly enhances sensory processing and the benefit appears to transfer between the two domains. Furthermore, certain processes in music are found to recruit the same brain processes and regions involved in language processing. Nonetheless, refined analysis of focal brain regions has reported substantial non-overlap between the processing of language and music.

In this Research Topic, we welcome contributions that address the relationship of language and music from a wide range of perspectives, including but not limited to evolutionary biology, genetics, behavioral sciences, cognitive neuroscience, and musicology, in a wide range of participants from children to the elderly, from healthy individuals to individuals with acquired or developmental disorders of music or language, and in diverse language contexts, including tonal and non-tonal languages. Studies that elucidate the fine-grained overlap and non-overlap of language and music processing from subcortical to cortical neural circuitries will also be welcome. We encourage authors to submit empirical research, systematic reviews and meta-analysis, case studies, or papers with new theoretical perspectives. We hope these contributions will generate new insights into the cognitive, neural, genetic and evolutionary relationship of language and music.

This article collection is a follow up of a Research Topic The relationship between music and language launched in Frontiers in Psychology in 2011.


Keywords: language, music, neural organization, genetics, evolution, cross-domain transfer


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

31 December 2020 Abstract
31 May 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

31 December 2020 Abstract
31 May 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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