Macquarie University
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The nature of syntactic processing in music and language

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posted on 2022-03-28, 18:57 authored by Anna Fiveash
It has been suggested that music and language are processed with shared cognitive resources. As these processing resources are limited in capacity, the concurrent presentation of music and language should produce interference, such that reduced processing is observed in one or both domains. The aim of this thesis was to investigate shared syntactic processing in music and language. To this end, I conducted a series of experiments to address limitations in previous research on this topic, which has (1) depended on surprising violations of syntactic structure, which may have engaged shared non-syntactic processes between music and language; (2) ignored considerations of auditory streaming research; and (3) focused mainly on the effects of music syntax processing on language syntax processing but not vice versa. Chapter 1 outlines the theoretical basis for the thesis. Chapter 2 presents three experiments showing that syntactic interference can be observed without surprising violations of structure, and that syntactic processing is dependent on successful auditory streaming. Chapter 3 reports on an event-related potential (ERP) study suggesting that syntactic processing of music is reduced when auditory streaming is disrupted. Experiments in Chapters 4 and 5 suggest that syntactic interference from music to language is modulated by whether tasks are primary or secondary. In both chapters, syntactic interference was not observed on the primary tasks, but interference was observed on the secondary tasks. In Chapter 6, all the experimental findings are drawn together and interpreted within a new Competitive Attention and Prioritisation Model. This thesis provides a new understanding of the nature of syntactic processing in music and language, and provides insight into the simultaneous processing of syntax in these two important modes of human communication.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Music and language : syntactic interference without syntactic violations -- Chapter 3. Syntactic processing in music and language : effects of interrupting auditory streams with alternating timbres -- Chapter 4. Complexity or syntax? Music, language, and syntactic interference -- Chapter 5. Effects of language syntax on music syntax processing -- Chapter 6. Discussion --Appendices.


"Department of Psychology, ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia" -- title page. Includes bibliographical references Thesis by publication.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Psychology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Psychology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Bill Thompson

Additional Supervisor 1

Genevieve McArthur


Copyright Anna Fiveash 2017. Copyright disclaimer:




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