Re: Why is high high? (Sheila Flanagan )

Subject: Re: Why is high high?
From:    Sheila Flanagan  <s.flanagan(at)NXT.CO.UK>
Date:    Wed, 26 Aug 1998 11:48:26 +0100

Dear Pawel, I have heard of many theories to do with this convention of 'low' and 'high' relating to pitch. I would like to suggest it is due to the simple phenomena that in order to sing a high note one tends to lift ones head stretching the throat. Again, to sing a low note, one tends to drop the head and chin. Here is a biological basis for the high/low association for pitch. best regards, Sheila Flanagan > -----Original Message----- > From: Pawel Kusmierek [SMTP:pq(at)] > Sent: Wednesday, August 26, 1998 10:11 AM > To: AUDITORY(at)LISTS.MCGILL.CA > Subject: Why is high high? > > Dear list-members, > > In several Indo-European languages (e.g. English, German, Italian, > Polish) words 'high' and 'low' are used to describe sounds of big > and small frequency, respectively. Do any of you know if this > relation appears in other (especially, non-Indo-European) > languages? > > Moreover, what may be the source of the relation? What has a > vertical linear distance (high/low) to do with sound frequency? > When you look at people, the relation of size and frequency > appears to be inverse: usually tall ('high')people (men) talk and sing > at lower frequencies than short ('low') people (women, children). Big > things sound lower than small things: a piccolo is smaller than > a tuba. > > I read in a review that as frequency of a sound increases, the > perceived location rises in elevation (I have not the original papers > yet). Could this be the cause? > > But what are the physiological bases of this perceptual > phenomenon? > Is it caused by some selective attenuation/amplification by pinnae? > Or is it a property of auditory centers in brain? Is it inherited or > learned? > > If it is inherited, it should have an evolutionary cause: did high- > frequency sounds come to an australopithecus from high elevation > (birds)? and low frequency sounds from low elevation (sounds of > buffalo's steps transmitted via ground)? > > If the perceptual phenomenon is learned, then again: do high > frequency sounds come to an infant from high elevation and low > sounds from low elevation? > > Can anyone comment my questions? > > Pawel Kusmierek > > > ************************************* > > Pawel Kusmierek > Department of Neurophysiology > Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology > 3, Pasteur St., 02-093 Warsaw, Poland > > tel. (48-22) 659 85 71 ex 379 or 388 > fax (48-22) 822 53 42 > E-mail pq(at) > ICQ 11740175 > > McGill is running a new version of LISTSERV (1.8c on Windows NT). > Information is available on the WEB at > McGill is running a new version of LISTSERV (1.8c on Windows NT). Information is available on the WEB at

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