Can foreign languages drive you crazy?

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    On The Science Show they recently had a program about how unfamiliar sounds, rhythms and tonalities can drive people crazy. I learnt that neuroscientists have been experimenting with the idea that when confronted with unfamiliar musical patterns the brain releases dopamine, which in large quantities can cause schizophrenia (in small quantities it makes you happy). As a striking example they cited Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which when first performed in 1913, led to violent reactions in the audience and rioting in Paris. In a book called Proust was a Neuroscientist, Jonah Lehrer in 2007 first proposed that the reason for the violence was that Stravinsky’s use of asymmetrical rhythms, percussive dissonances, polyrhythms and polytonality was so new at the time that no one at the opera had ever heard anything like it. Consequently, the neurons in the listeners’ brains started to fire all at the same time and their brains got flooded with dopamine and as a result of that little old ladies started to hit each other with their canes. This was the first time I ever heard any of this but when you look up “classical music riot” on Wikipedia, you get a list of 12 such events of mass violence following a musical premiere.
    Original languageEnglish
    Specialist publicationLanguage on the move
    PublisherLanguage on the move
    Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2011

    Bibliographical note

    Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • 200401 applied linguistics and educational linguistics
    • 200405 language in culture and society (sociolinguistics)


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