...syntax in language and music share a common set of processes (instantiated in frontal brain area) - Patel, 2003
...some aspects of structural integration in language and music appear to be shared -Fedorenko, et al., 2009
All formal differences between language and music are a consequence of differences in their fundamental building blocks (arbitrary pairings of sound and meaning in the case of language; pitch-classes and pitch-class combinations in the case of music).† In all other respects, language and music are identical. -Katz & Pesetsky, 2011 http://ling.auf.net/lingBuzz/000959
This claim predicts that there should be overlap in the brain regions involved in processing both language and music. Surprisingly, no one has assessed this directly in the same subjects. Until now.
A new paper in the Journal of Neuroscience reports a study in which participants listened to either sentences or melodic stimuli during fMRI scanning (Rogalsky et al., 2011). Overlap between the two conditions was, in fact, observed, but only in relatively early auditory areas (not surprisingly, given that both stimuli are acoustic). No overlap was found in regions thought to be involved in structural processing, i.e., Broca's area and the anterior temporal lobe. Language activated a more lateral temporal lobe network, while music activated a dorsomedial pattern in the temporal lobes. Broca's area, a prime candidate for structural processing according to many, was not reliably activated by either stimulus class, once acoustic envelope information was controlled. Even within the region of overlap in upstream auditory areas, pattern classification analysis revealed that music and language activated a different pattern of activity.
What does this mean? Despite the recent hype, I don't think structural processing music and language have all that much in common, at least in terms of neural resources. I think previous behavioral and electrophysiological evidence for shared resources has more to do the tasks employed (typically violation studies) than normal structural processing itself.
Fedorenko E, Patel A, Casasanto D, Winawer J, & Gibson E (2009). Structural integration in language and music: evidence for a shared system. Memory & cognition, 37 (1), 1-9 PMID: 19103970
Patel, A. (2003). Language, music, syntax and the brain Nature Neuroscience, 6 (7), 674-681 DOI: 10.1038/nn1082
Rogalsky, C., Rong, F., Saberi, K., & Hickok, G. (2011). Functional anatomy of language and music perception: Temporal and structural factors investigated using fMRI. Journal of Neuroscience, 31(10): 3843-3852