Friday, July 22, 2005

The Singing Neanderthals?!

I've been feeling bad since my recent terrible admission that I don't do Child Language Acquisition. Under interrogation, I keep confessing to finding it deeply uninteresting, but that's such a lame thing to say I thought I'd better make a bit more effort. And hurrah! This week there's a review in The Telegraph of a new book which explores the relationship between music and language development. But oh no, not all that usual stuff about babies listening to Mozart in the womb and being born with their first novel already written - the usual deathly dull bilge that pops up periodically in the popular media. This is WAY cool!

Y'see, this book explores language development from a far more interesting perspective. Not just one baby's fairly inevitable journey through the well-documented stages of dribbling and babbling, but the journey of our ancestors from musically-minded Neanderthal to language-capable bipedal hominid. The connection with current Child Language Acquisition processes? Well, that connection comes from the way Infant Directed Speech in many very different languages, including English, shares a distinctive use of musical features such as rhythm and tempo. The writer's argument is that this musicality is part of our inherited brain circuitry. Now that's interesting...

Another interesting aspect of the article is its suggestion that language acquisition erodes perfect pitch in humans. The consequence drawn from this is that pre-linguistic humans may have been musically brilliant, in a way that most of us today can only dream of. How much credence you give this argument is up to you, but surely, at last, I have an explanation for why I'm only a rock guitar legend in the made up world inside my head. Too adept with words for my own good... Tragically...

But if I ever recover from the cruelty of language, my band will definitely be called 'The Singing Neanderthals'.

Baby's first tunes

1 Comments:

At 8:12 pm, Anonymous Projoy said...

Regarding that book, while reading the review, I remembered that autistic people are often characterised by a monotonous voice and difficulty with language acquisition, especially in the more subtle emotional area of intonation. Maybe a possible manifestation of the effect in action?

Interesting also to link it with a lot of research into the success of music therapy in getting autistic kids communicating.

 

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