21. December 2020

New Research Group Established

A new research group led by Daniela Sammler will investigate the interaction of music and language. They aim to explore similarities and differences between the two channels, their neural bases, and their aesthetic fusion.

What do a delicate Mozart sonata and a blazing presidential speech have in common? On the surface, not much; but in terms of neurons – the cells that make up our nervous systems – quite a lot. For our brain, the boundaries between music and language, and between singing and speaking, are fluid. Coincidence? Hardly. Although music and speech are different forms of human communication, similarities in structure, (speech) rhythm, and melody are obvious, particularly so when it comes to songs and poetry.

“The frequent merging of music and language suggests that the human brain holds similar ‘solutions’ for their perception and production,” explains research group leader Daniela Sammler.

“Modern neuroscientific methods will allow us to further explore these commonalities and their limitations, to uncover neurobiological interfaces on the path from sound to words and harmony, and to assess the long-term potential of music for language rehabilitation and pedagogy.”

Merging lines of research

The group commenced work this October, examining the interfaces of music and language from multiple angles in both perception and production. Melody and inflection (prosody) are as much a focus as is the “syntax” of music and language. How are prosodic signals, such as those in speech melody, processed neuronally, and how do they compare to music perception? What neuronal interactions are involved when we listen to melody and lyrics, and how does the brain integrate the structure, meaning, and affective coloring of the two channels, the music and the words? And what mechanisms allow musicians and people involved in conversation to interact fluidly with each other – whether verbally or musically? “These are just a few of our questions, and we are excited to find answers to them here, together with the many thinkers in the humanities and natural sciences at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics,.”

For more information, please visit the website of the Neurocognition of Music and Language Research Group.

Daniela Sammler

Cognitive psychologistDaniela Sammlerled the Otto Hahn Group “Neural Basis of Intonation in Language and Music” at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig from 2013 to 2020. After studying psychology at the University of Leipzig and Université Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, and completing her PhD at the MPI in Leipzig, she conducted research at the Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris, the Université Nord-de-France in Lille, the University of Glasgow, and the University of Western Sydney. Her dissertation on the comparative neuroanatomy of music and language processing in patients with brain lesions or pharmacoresistant epilepsy was awarded the Max Planck Society’s Otto Hahn Medal for outstanding scientific achievement in 2009. In 2018, she successfully completed her habilitation at the University of Leipzig. When not doing research, Dr. Sammler enjoys giving concert-lectures together with musician colleagues, sharing her expertise in music and language with the public.


Other research groups of the MPIEA

Histories of Music, Mind, and Body · led by Carmel Raz

Computational Auditory Perception · led by Nori Jacoby

Neural and Environmental Rhythms· led by Molly Henry