Speech, Song and the Minor Third; Jeremy Day-O'Connell, Ph.D.


Rabinovitch House Room 101, 3640 rue de la Montagne, Montreal, QC, H3G 2A8, CA

This paper reports on the first laboratory study of an idiosyncratic linguistic phenomenon: the “stylized interjection,” which is most recognizable to English speakers in the vocative expression, “Yoo-hoo!”  The stylized interjection, as described throughout the musicological and linguistic literature, is associated with a particular intonational formula--the “calling contour”--and intriguingly, with a purportedly cross-cultural musical fingerprint: the interval of the minor third.  A reading task was used to systematically compare the stylized interjection to four other linguistic forms along a number of acoustic dimensions (involving pitch, duration, intensity, and timbre).
Results establish the characteristics of the English stylized interjection, suggesting its interpretation as “sung speech,” and thereby elucidating its unique sound-meaning correspondence. Implications for music anthropology and music-language studies, especially vis-a-vis scales and intervals, will also be discussed. Finally, I will describe an ongoing cross-cultural extension of this study, which utilizes elicitations of infant-directed speech.
Jeremy Day-O’Connell is a faculty member in the Department of Music at Knox University, Illinois.  He completed both a Ph.D. and an M.A. in Musicology at Cornell University (2002, 1997).  His undergraduate degree, from Swarthmore College, was in Music and Mathematics. He was been on faculty at Knox since 2004.
His research interests include the study of the commonalities in music and language, and in particular, the phenomenon of stylized intonation.
Both linguists and musicians have long been intrigued with stylized intonation, or the use of intoned syllables in spoken language, often purported to approximate the minor third (as in 'Yoo-hoo,' 'Bye-bye,' etc.). This phenomenon (and especially its apparent -- but largely undocumented-- universality) raises provocative questions about the relationship between music and language.
These questions have inspired 'Music, Language, and the Minor Third,' which will be the subject of Dr. Day-Connell’s invited lecture.
Dr. Day O’Connell is a visiting scientist at CIRMMT through December of this year, on sabbatic leave.
Wine and cheese refreshments will be served following the talk.

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