Skip to comments.Theory: Music underlies language acquisition
Posted on 09/19/2012 5:02:40 AM PDT by Pharmboy
HOUSTON (Sept. 18, 2012) Contrary to the prevailing theories that music and language are cognitively separate or that music is a byproduct of language, theorists at Rice Universitys Shepherd School of Music and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) advocate that music underlies the ability to acquire language.
Spoken language is a special type of music, said Anthony Brandt, co-author of a theory paper published online this month in the journal Frontiers in Cognitive Auditory Neuroscience. Language is typically viewed as fundamental to human intelligence, and music is often treated as being dependent on or derived from language. But from a developmental perspective, we argue that music comes first and language arises from music.
Brandt, associate professor of composition and theory at the Shepherd School, co-authored the paper with Shepherd School graduate student Molly Gebrian and L. Robert Slevc, UMCP assistant professor of psychology and director of the Language and Music Cognition Lab.
Infants listen first to sounds of language and only later to its meaning, Brandt said. He noted that newborns extensive abilities in different aspects of speech perception depend on the discrimination of the sounds of language the most musical aspects of speech.
The paper cites various studies that show what the newborn brain is capable of, such as the ability to distinguish the phonemes, or basic distinctive units of speech sound, and such attributes as pitch, rhythm and timbre.
The authors define music as creative play with sound. They said the term music implies an attention to the acoustic features of sound irrespective of any referential function. As adults, people focus primarily on the meaning of speech. But babies begin by hearing language as an intentional and often repetitive vocal performance, Brandt said. They listen to it not only for its emotional content but also for its rhythmic and phonemic patterns and consistencies. The meaning of words comes later.
Brandt and his co-authors challenge the prevailing view that music cognition matures more slowly than language cognition and is more difficult. We show that music and language develop along similar time lines, he said.
Infants initially dont distinguish well between their native language and all the languages of the world, Brandt said. Throughout the first year of life, they gradually hone in on their native language. Similarly, infants initially dont distinguish well between their native musical traditions and those of other cultures; they start to hone in on their own musical culture at the same time that they hone in on their native language, he said.
The paper explores many connections between listening to speech and music. For example, recognizing the sound of different consonants requires rapid processing in the temporal lobe of the brain. Similarly, recognizing the timbre of different instruments requires temporal processing at the same speed a feature of musical hearing that has often been overlooked, Brandt said.
You cant distinguish between a piano and a trumpet if you cant process what youre hearing at the same speed that you listen for the difference between ba and da, he said. In this and many other ways, listening to music and speech overlap. The authors argue that from a musical perspective, speech is a concert of phonemes and syllables.
While music and language may be cognitively and neurally distinct in adults, we suggest that language is simply a subset of music from a childs view, Brandt said. We conclude that music merits a central place in our understanding of human development.
Brandt said more research on this topic might lead to a better understanding of why music therapy is helpful for people with reading and speech disorders. People with dyslexia often have problems with the performance of musical rhythm. A lot of people with language deficits also have musical deficits, Brandt said.
More research could also shed light on rehabilitation for people who have suffered a stroke. Music helps them reacquire language, because that may be how they acquired language in the first place, Brandt said.
The research was supported by Rices Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Initiatives, the Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology and the Shepherd School of Music.
B.J. Almond 713-348-6770 firstname.lastname@example.org
For the full text of the theory paper, visit http://www.frontiersin.org/Auditory_Cognitive_Neuroscience/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00327/abstract.
Musical evolution ping...
Heard (or read) an interview once with Hunter Thompson.
He claimed he sometimes typed out one of Lincoln’s speeches
“to get the rhythm” before commencing his own work.
I had no problem with the claim.
Not sure how pertinent this is to the article.
I would agree that to a mind oblivious to the meaning of uttered sound, it may very well be indistinguishable from melody.
I would add that, to the degree written language is subvocalized, if divorced from its semantic content,
it too becomes simply another form of music.
My husband is recovering from a stroke that damaged the part of his brain relating to speech. He cannot form any words that I can recognize except OK and an occasional Yes. BUT he can sing Happy Birthday and other familiar songs. His speech therapist said that area of the brain is in a different location (for music) and was not affected by his stroke. That seems to run counter to this article as well.
While music and language may be cognitively and neurally distinct in adults, we suggest that language is simply a subset of music from a childs view, Brandt said.
Absolutely pertinent. Thanks...
I have had experience in teaching music to young children. I agree that to a baby, speech is music. They are fascinated with the tone, inflection, and how the sound is produced. Babies will look intently at a person’s eyes and mouth when they are being spoken to even when they haven’t a clue what is being said.
They love being read to even when only a few months old. Story telling with exaggerated vocal inflections is music to them.
Speech is tone and rhythm in a usually narrow range of pitch and with short tones, rather than long ones.
Wonder how Rap music fits in to this theory?
I love that. And Lincoln is a good go to man on that point. Brilliant (and deeply historical) English prose stylist.
Writing /Copying/typing authors is a superb exercise.
Sort of maybe similarly, I remember that Stravinsky always began his day by playing a Bach fugue at his keyboard.
The classics, when we partake of them, will teach us much. And they do in fact help us to get going.
On the other hand, think of people who stutter or have other problems in speaking, who can sing (or otherwise vocally perform) without difficulty. Mel Tillis is one example; I knew a radio announcer who I would classify the same.
Yes...I know of one person with the same traits. Excellent point.
Not sure, but definitely something to think about. Wordplay comes into it as well as rhythm of delivery and meaning/non-meaning of the words.
REM’s It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine), itself in the tradition of Subterranean Homesick Blues, is a good example of what I mean:
Light a candle, light a votive
Step down, step down
Watch your heel crush, crushed, uh-oh,
This means no fear cavalier
Renegade steer clear!
A tournament, tournament, a tournament of lies
Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline
Like... What does all that even mean? So it’s just like Michael Stipe is playing his own voice as opposed to delivering a narrative through verse.
Yes. Poets have known this for ages. The great epics poets invoke the muse. Leave it to Socrates to be persuasive without it. He disliked the sophistic emphasis of sound over sense.
If you grow up with nothing but a steady diet of polka, guess what? Problems with the performance of musical rhythm.
At least we know their intentions: “More research could also shed light on rehabilitation for people”
I wonder how this relates to dogs and dog training? A lot of dog trainers use elaborate vocalizations and tones to train their charges. "G-o-o-o-d B-oi-oi-y" And some use only hand signals.
“If you grow up with nothing but a steady diet of polka, guess what? Problems with the performance of musical rhythm.”
oh... my first band died a horrible death due to that. We were terrible to start with and one of the mom’s at a party suggested that she send over her son who was a phenomenal musician. We were excited when we heard the news.
Cut to the next rehearsal. A guy walks in with an accordion and begins to play polka. That is all he could play. Polka music.
You haven’t lived until you have heard the “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction Polka”. Reports of our rehearsal reached the parents ears and we suddenly found ourselves scheduled for every sport known to man. A game every night.
My dad told me later that the parents had agreed that if we ever did get a gig they would immediately move out of state in the dead of night.
My later bands were much more successful but the one cardinal rule was “No accordion players”.
You know those nigh-omnipresent Pimsleur ads? Well, a few weeks ago I clicked on one. The lady in the video said that they had a method of teaching language that unlocked the language-learning software in the human brain and that after thirty minutes a day for ten days I'd be well on the way to learning another language--not fluent, but on my way. Plus it cost less than ten dollars, the shipping was free, and it came with a money back guarantee. What wasn't to like? So I bought it.
First off, I didn't get ten days' worth of lessons, but only eight. Second, there was some damage to a couple of the CD's causing difficulty in playing them (pops, skips, periods of silence, etc.). Not really enough to complain about, but you'd think Pimsleur would be able to send undamaged CD's to their customers.
Third, without being told until my CD's came in, I had unwittingly joined some sort of "book of the month club" type deal where I'll be receiving more lessons every month, though I have the right to use them for thirty days and send them back without paying. Not a bad deal, but I probably wouldn't have bought them in the first place if I'd known.
And fourthly, the simple fact is that all the information on the four CD's, as useful as it is, is barely a drop in the ocean to learning the language. They point out that the actual vocabulary necessary to get by in day to day situations is actually rather small, but this was still very little. I'd say it was only worth what I paid for it.
All my life I've been fascinated by languages and have tried to learn a second one, with absolutely no success except in one case: Biblical Hebrew (a textual language comprehended visually, not a spoken language comprehended aurally). Even my attempts to learn Modern Hebrew have been failures.
Naturally the language I sent for was Modern Hebrew, and it actually does seem to be a good way to process the language. The only problem is the small amount of information on only four CD's.
My problem in language learning is that I don't comprehend them very well aurally. If I look at a pointed Hebrew text (and Modern Hebrew is unpointed, so I can't read it either) I can figure out what part of speech it is even if I'm unfamiliar with the word. But spoken language flies past my ear so fast that I don't know what I've just heard. I just stand there gaping while my interlocutor waits for some sort of response.
I also seem to have trouble automatically knowing when to use masculine and feminine adjectives and forms of verbs. Intellectually I know all about this, but when I'm trying to respond immediately I'm liable to use the wrong gender.
Anyone else have any language learning woes they care to share? Misery (and failure) loves company.
For example, it is not unusual in international cities like London, NYC, Paris, etc., for parents from, say, China, to move to NYC with a baby and have the child eventually attend (American) pre-school. They will then have a nanny from Sweden or Poland or Puerto Rico. The child will be able to converse in Mandarin, Swedish and English and not miss a beat. Astounding--I have seen it several times myself.
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