Marly Mageau wondered why several of her favourite musical artists sounded completely different in their songs compared to their interviews.

So she turned her interest into a compelling thesis for her Master’s degree in Cognitive Science.

Marly Mageau at Convocation

Mageau graduated with a Master of Cognitive Science.

“I was interested in investigating if this difference is due to attempts to sound like other singers of the same genre, or musical training, or if it is an aspect of the music itself,” says Mageau.

“Something interesting that I found is that it is more difficult to detect a foreign accent when someone is singing compared to when they are reading, even for untrained singers,” shares Mageau. “It appears that the imposed duration and pitch of music hide important cues that we need in order to detect an accent. These cues are present in regular speech. However, the additional characteristics that are associated with singing mask these cues, making it more difficult and ultimately hiding the singers’ accents.”

Mageau points out that the information in her research presents foundational information which can be used to build on investigating the interaction of accents in music. “In addition, this research reinforces the importance of teaching second language learners prosodic features (e.g., intonation) in order to enhance their intelligibility.” In the field of Linguisitics, “prosody” are properties of syllables and larger units of speech that contribute to linguistic functions such as intonation, tone, stress, and rhythm.

Adele - the singer

Adele at the 85th Academy Awards

Mageau says that previous research focused on trained singers with various English accents, like Adele. “These researchers have noted that trained singers shift their accents in order to sound a specific way for sociological or cultural reasons. The fact that Adele sounds American when she sings is thus mostly because she (consciously or unconsciously) “wants” to sound American – she is projecting a certain style or genre, which is associated with American accents.

Mageau says that she has not been able to listen to music in quite the same way since commencing her research. “I am constantly trying to see if I can detect an accent.”

Mageau wanted to thank her graduate supervisor, Dr. Ida Toivonen. “Ida is an insightful, intelligent supervisor who puts her students first. She welcomed new ideas, and ensured that we had plenty of opportunities to meet, discuss and analyze my research in order to set me up for success. She is also a kind, compassionate professor who encouraged me to apply for conferences, presentations and meetings with as much help from her as I needed. My graduate experience would not have been the same without her.”

Mageau graduated with her master’s degree at June Convocation. She is currently working for the Government of Canada at the Canadian Transportation Agency, as a complaints officer in air travel complaints.

“My current position does not seem relevant to my graduate degree. However, my role at the Agency requires me to use skills that I learned through my degree.”

She says that her degree taught her to explore research and materials from multiple angles in order to bring them together in one cohesive way.  “My degree has prepared me for the workworld as work and research are not clear cut and they require investigation into multiple resources in order to provide the most correct, whole presentation that best represents the work. Also, during my degree I was required to multi-task in order to meet deadlines. This is an invaluable skill that I use in my work life to ensure the work gets done on time.”

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