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Feel the beat: how rhythm shapes the way we use and understand language

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Stress-timing and meters aren’t merely the stuff of poetry – their everyday use in conversation and song reveals a fundamental pattern in language skills

Do you feel the rhythm? Or a French rythme, Spanish ritmo, Swedish rytm, Russian ритм (ritm) or Japanese rizumu? Is there a difference? Perhaps one way to find out is to have a French conversation, German konversation, Spanish conversación, or Italian conversatione? Doing so will of course reveal many differences, but languages of the world also share much, just as these words demonstrate.

For millennia we have been singing, dancing, clapping, drumming and talking to a beat. Just like the evolution of our DNA, languages have cross-pollinated, overlapped and changed, but at a far more rapid rate than our bodies. But are linguistic rhythmic patterns really universal?

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