A Mozart is not a Pavarotti: singers outperform instrumentalists on foreign accent imitation

Markus Christiner, Susanne Maria Reiterer

Publications: Contribution to journalArticlePeer Reviewed


Recent findings have shown that people with higher musical aptitude were also better in oral language imitation tasks. However, whether singing capacity and instrument playing contribute differently to the imitation of speech has been ignored so far. Research has just recently started to understand that instrumentalists develop quite distinct skills when compared to vocalists. In the same vein the role of the vocal motor system in language acquisition processes has poorly been investigated as most investigations (neurobiological and behavioral) favor to examine speech perception. We set out to test whether the vocal motor system can influence an ability to learn, produce and perceive new languages by contrasting instrumentalists and vocalists. Therefore, we investigated 96 participants, 27 instrumentalists, 33 vocalists and 36 non-musicians/non-singers. They were tested for their abilities to imitate foreign speech: unknown language (Hindi), second language (English) and their musical aptitude. Results revealed that both instrumentalists and vocalists have a higher ability to imitate unintelligible speech and foreign accents than non-musicians/non-singers. Within the musician group, vocalists outperformed instrumentalists significantly. Conclusion: First, adaptive plasticity for speech imitation is not reliant on audition alone but also on vocal-motor induced processes. Second, vocal flexibility of singers goes together with higher speech imitation aptitude. Third, vocal motor training, as of singers, may speed up foreign language acquisition processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number482
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2015
Event24th Annual Conference of the European Second Language Association (EUROSLA 24) - University of York, York, United Kingdom
Duration: 3 Sep 20146 Sep 2014

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 503003 Talent research
  • 602040 Psycholinguistics
  • 501011 Cognitive psychology
  • 602036 Neurolinguistics


  • Instrumentalists versus vocalists
  • Language acquisition device
  • Memory
  • Singing ability
  • Speech imitation
  • Vocal flexibility
  • Vocal motor system

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