Pronunciation difficulty, temporal regularity, and the speech-to-song illusion

Elizabeth H. Margulis, Rhimmon Simchy-Gross, Justin L. Black

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The speech-to-song illusion (Deutsch et al., 2011) tracks the perceptual transformation from speech to song across repetitions of a brief spoken utterance. Because it involves no change in the stimulus itself, but a dramatic change in its perceived affiliation to speech or to music, it presents a unique opportunity to comparatively investigate the processing of language and music. In this study, native English-speaking participants were presented with brief spoken utterances that were subsequently repeated ten times. The utterances were drawn either from languages that are relatively difficult for a native English speaker to pronounce, or languages that are relatively easy for a native English speaker to pronounce. Moreover, the repetition could occur at regular or irregular temporal intervals. Participants rated the utterances before and after the repetitions on a 5-point Likert-like scale ranging from "sounds exactly like speech" to "sounds exactly like singing." The difference in ratings before and after was taken as a measure of the strength of the speech-to-song illusion in each case. The speech-to-song illusion occurred regardless of whether the repetitions were spaced at regular temporal intervals or not; however, it occurred more readily if the utterance was spoken in a language difficult for a native English speaker to pronounce. Speech circuitry seemed more liable to capture native and easy-to-pronounce languages, and more reluctant to relinquish them to perceived song across repetitions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number48
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberJAN
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • Meter
  • Music and language
  • Music perception
  • Repetition
  • Speech-to-song illusion


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