Comparing rhythm in speech and music: The case of English and Polish

Main Article Content

Mateusz Jekiel


The point of departure for the following study is Patel and Daniele (2003), who suggested that the rhythm of a culture’s language is reflected in its instrumental music. The former study used the normalised pairwise variability index (henceforth nPVI), a measure of temporal patterning in speech, to compare the variability of vocalic duration in recorded speech samples with the variability of note duration in music notation on the example of English and French speech and classical music. The aim of this experiment is to test whether the linguistic rhythm conventionalised in the language of a community affects the rhythm in the musical practice of that community, by focusing on English and Polish speech and classical, as well as folk music. The nPVI values were obtained from a set of English and Polish recorded news-like sentences, and from musical notation of English and Polish classical and folk musical themes. The results suggest that reflections of Polish speech rhythm may be more apparent in folk music than in classical music, though more data are needed to test this idea. This initial study suggests that the method used might bring more fruitful results when comparing speech rhythm with less formalized and more traditional musical themes.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

How to Cite
Jekiel, M. (2014). Comparing rhythm in speech and music: The case of English and Polish. Yearbook of the Poznań Linguistic Meeting, 1(1), 55-71.


  1. Abercrombie, D. 1967. Elements of general phonetics. Chicago, IL: Aldine.
  2. Abraham, G. 1974. The tradition of Western music. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  3. Boersma, P. and D. Weenink. 2013. “Praat: doing phonetics by computer”. (Computer programme). Version 5.3.56, retrieved 15 Sep 2013 from <>.
  4. Child, F. J. 1882–1898. The English and Scottish popular ballads. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  5. Darwin, C. 1871. The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. London: John Murray.
  6. Dauer, R. M. 1983. “Stress-timing and syllable-timing reanalyzed”. Journal of Phonetics 11. 51–62.
  7. Dellwo, V. 2006. “Rhythm and speech rate: A variation coefficient for deltaC”. In: Karnowski, P., I. Szigeti and P. Lang (eds.), Language and language-processing. Proceedings of the 38th Linguistic Colloquium, Frankfurt am Main. 231–241.
  8. Grabe, E. and E. L. Low. 2002. “Durational variability in speech and the rhythm class hypothesis”. Laboratory Phonology 7. 515–546.
  9. Grout, D. J. and C. V. Palisca. 2000. A history of Western music. (6th edn.) New York: W. W. Norton.
  10. Handel, S. 1989. Listening: An introduction to the perception of auditory events. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  11. Kolberg, O. 1857. Dzieła wszystkie, tom I: Pieśni ludu polskiego. Polskie To-warzystwo Ludoznawcze.
  12. Lerdahl, F. and R. Jackendoff. 1983. A generative theory of tonal music. MIT Press, Cambridge.
  13. Liberman, M. 1975. “The intonational system of English”. (PhD thesis, MIT.)
  14. London, J. and K. Jones. 2010. “Metrical hierarchies and musical nPVI: A re-analysis of Patel and Daniele”, Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition. 379–380.
  15. Luboff, N. and W. Stracke. 1969. Songs of man: The international book of folk songs. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice–Hall.
  16. McGowan, R. W. and A. G. Levitt. 2011. “A comparison of rhythm in English dialects and music”. Music Perception 28(3). 307–313.
  17. Mithen, S. 2005. The singing Neanderthals: The origins of music, language, mind and body. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  18. Nazzi, T., J. Bertoncini and J. Mehler. 1998. “Language discrimination in newborns: Toward an understanding of the role of rhythm”. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 24(3). 756–777.
  19. Nespor, M. 1990. “On the rhythm parameter in phonology”. In: Rocca, I. (ed.), Logical issues in language acquisition. 157–175. Dordrecht: Foris.
  20. Nettl, B. 2000. “An ethnomusicologist contemplates universals in musical sound and musical culture”. In: Wallin, N. L., B. Merker and S. Brown (eds.), The origins of music. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 463–472.
  21. Patel, A. D. 2006. “Musical rhythm, linguistic rhythm, and human evolution”. Music Perception 24. 99–104.
  22. Patel, A. D. 2008. Music, language, and the brain. New York: Oxford University Press.
  23. Patel, A. D. and J. R. Daniele. 2003. “An empirical comparison of rhythm in language and music”. Cognition 87. 35–45.
  24. Pike, K. N. 1945. The intonation of American English. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  25. Ramus, F. 2002. “Acoustic correlates of linguistic rhythm: Perspectives”. Proceed-ings of Speech Prosody. 115–120.
  26. Roach, P. 1982. “On the distinction between ‘stress-timed’ and ‘syllable-timed’ languages”. In: Crystal, D. Linguistic controversies: Essays in linguistic theory and practice in honour of F. R. Palmer. London: Hodder Arnold. 73–79.
  27. Selkirk, E. O. 1984. Phonology and syntax: The relation between sound and structure. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  28. Thomas, E. R. 2011. Sociophonetics: An introduction. Palgrave Macmillan.
  29. Wallin, N. L., B. Merker and S. Brown. (eds.). 2000. The origins of music. Cam-bridge, MA: MIT Press.
  30. Wenk, B. J. 1987. “Just in time: On speech rhythms in music”. Linguistics 25. 969–981.