Speech versus nonspeech in pitch memory

Catherine Semal, Laurent Demany, Kazuo Ueda, Pierre André Hallé

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


The memory trace of the pitch sensation induced by a standard tone (S) can be strongly degraded by subsequently intervening sounds (I). Deutsch [Science 168, 1604- 1605 (1970)] suggested that the degradation is much weaker when the I sounds are words than when they are tones. In Deutsch's study, however, the pitch relations between S and the I words were not controlled. The first experiment reported here was similar to that of Deutsch except that the speech and nonspeech stimuli used as I sounds were matched in pitch. The speech stimuli were monosyllabic words derived from recordings of a real voice, whereas the nonspeech stimuli were harmonic complex tones with a flat spectral profile. These two kinds of I sounds were presented at a variable pitch distance (Δ-pitch) from the S tone. In a same/different paradigm, S had to be compared with a tone presented 6 s later; this comparison tone could be either identical to S or shifted in pitch by ±75 cents. The nature of the I sounds (spoken words versus tones) affected discrimination performance, but markedly less than did Δ-pitch. Performance was better when Δ-pitch was large than when it was small, for the speech as well as nonspeech I sounds. In a second experiment, the S sounds and comparison sounds were spoken words instead of tones. The differences to be detected were restricted to shifts in fundamental frequency (and thus pitch), the other acoustic attributes of the words being left unchanged. Again, discrimination performance was positively related to Δ-pitch. This time, the nature of the I sounds (words versus tones) had no significant effect. Overall, the results suggest that, in auditory short- term memory, the pitch of speech sounds is not stored differently from the pitch of nonspeech sounds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1132-1140
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number2 I
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1996
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics


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