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.
The secret to success in a second language is when one begins to think in that language rather than thinking in English then mentally translating it before speaking. Unfortunately, I've never gotten this far. There are some super-familiar Biblical phrases I understand without translating (Vaydabber HaShem 'el Mosheh le'mor: And HaShem spoke to Moses saying), but when it comes to the modern spoken language I have to spend thirty minutes figuring out how to translate the English into Hebrew and then speak it very carefully--and even then I usually make a mistake of some kind. And I've been studying Biblical Hebrew for 27 years!
Unfortunately there's very little commonality between learning a textual and a spoken language.
Maybe I should try learning Old English instead?
Robin Williams doing Lawrence Welk years ago. Imagine the North Dakota German accent, now:
Tankyou, tankyou, tankyou.
Daht wass a bitchin' boss song...let's hear it for de boyss in de bandt...effry vun uff dem is a bad mothher in hiss own riight.
Now let's hear it for de luffly Lennon Sisterss, as dey sing for you "I Cand Ged No Sadisfacshunn."
I didn't mean learning Old English would help my Hebrew. I meant maybe I have no talent learning spoken languages and should confine myself to learning textual languages, of which Old English is an example.
Maybe learning to read Beowulf in Old English would be like learning to read the Hebrew Bible, and easier than learning to speak and aurally understand any spoken language.
Yes...I did understand that...just my lame attempt at humor. I took German in high school, and in college English class we all had to read Chaucer out loud in the original Middle English. I did well at this because of my background in German.
Schmenge Bros. double time!
Perhaps you haven’t tried the musical route, ZC. You could learn the lyrics to songs in another language.
I also like to watch documentaries on YouTube—it doesn’t matter if I don’t understand them. I’m just a baby sopping it up. Think about it, it takes a baby some 20 years to finally speak as an adult—who knows, you also might have 20 years left! True, babies live in the language environment; our success depends on creating a language environment.
One of my favorite is the sound of Swedish—melodious warbling. Watch the “Wallander” series in a marathon and you’ll learn to warble in Swedish. That’s nothing to sneeze at, because once you can babble in Swedish, you can give the ancient Greek a proper cadence and intonation.
That’s what I am doing with Polish, I listen to almost exclusively Polish music today, I always liked how the language sounds when sung, kind of a mix between French and Russian. But I can pretty much recite songs from memory, phonetically sounding them out, and of course you do learn words that way as well.
It took me a long time to figure that out. I finally broke down and read Edmund Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution and thought "wow, this is amazing!"
Then a light went off in my head and I thought "yeah, it's a classic"
The thought occurred sometime back: it's narrative that underlies all art. This is the complete antithesis of the reductive tendencies of modernism; there is no such thing as pure art or pure music that can be distilled down to some abstract essence. In other words, song and verse is the root and wellspring of music. If a performer loses that narrative thread, the music goes flat. I've had enough of this arid crap.
I think this connection of music and language acquisition tends to buoy this understanding.
Red herring. Basically everything overlaps neurally to some extent especially if it starts in the same audio pathway. Their claim that some low level processing is the same is practically a truism. But I doubt much of the congnitive processes are the same. For one thing their view of natural language is completely bottom up (like music). But it's demonstrably not, since garbled language can easily be understood by the context using top-down processing.
holy mackeral, I am reading Reflections right now! In fact, I just got out of a discussion group on it a half hour ago!!!
Truly a classic and like all classics perennially applicable...the way Burke and we understand the world is completely unlike obama. obama in fact is like a Revolutionary and he deserves the treatment that Burke gave to Price and the revolutionaries.
You know what else is funny? For the class, at the beginning, I told the students that Burke was too good but too rich to truly master in the short time we have with him. So I played them the first movement of Bach’s cantata BWV 140. I told them in that nine minutes of music they could “hear” everything that Burke was saying......
You are so right. Distilling music down to “pure music” is basically reducing flesh and blood men to mere Citizens, where it is them and the State. There is no such thing as pure citizenship (that would be simple slavery) any more than there is such a thing as “pure music”. Can you imagine Bach wanting to strip his complex compositions of everything in order to make it “pure”? Complete rubbish.
Interesting. Good to hear about some worthwhile research. I’m thinking it explains, at least in part, why I, a musically inclined cat, like some prose writers and dislike others for reasons not always of content but style. It must be the music of it. By the way, I like long flowing sentences, so-called run-on sentences, which I often write m’self.
I suspect that the researcher would be interested in hearing from you.
|GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach|
Thanks Pharmboy. Better take a note of this, it sounds like a key discovery.
And God sang, Let there be ....
It has a nice ring to it.
I didn't know that, but it makes sense.
Maybe even in three minutes and nineteen seconds.
No, I don't mean that. I think of narrative in a broader sense--a communication of an experience of some sort, and words are only one way to express it.
People relate to art by perceiving in it a common experience--either by interpreting or superimposing they're experience over it. The latter is pretty important and I think most good artists deliberately weave a little fog to engage their audience.
thank you for that link. I have never heard of Fischer, but what a sensitive and brilliant interpretation!
The third word I learned was “Usmic.” Mom would put on a stack of piano Boogie Woogie 78s to keep me entertained and quiet. When the stack played out, I’d start screaming for “Usmic! Usmic!” and she’d flip the stack over. Explains a lot! I hear music in my head, non-stop.
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