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September 20, 2012--------News Archive Return to: News Alerts


“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.”

Anthony Brandt

WHO Child Growth Charts

       

Theory: Music Underlies Language Acquisition

Contrary to the prevailing theories that music and language are cognitively separate or that music is a byproduct of language, theorists advocate that music underlies the ability to acquire language


“Spoken language is a special type of music.

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.”

Anthony Brandt


The theory paper was published online this month in the journal Frontiers in Cognitive Auditory Neuroscience.

Brandt, associate professor of composition and theory at the Rice University Shepherd School, co-authored the paper with Shepherd School of Music and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), and 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 don’t distinguish well between their native language and all the languages of the world, Brandt said.


Throughout the first year of life,
infants gradually hone in on their native language.

Similarly, infants initially don’t 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, Brandt 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.

Brandt: “You can’t distinguish between a piano and a trumpet if you can’t process what you’re hearing at the same speed that you listen for the difference between ‘ba’ and ‘da. 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 child’s view.

We conclude that music merits a central place
in our understanding of human development.”

Anthony Brandt


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 Rice’s Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Initiatives, the Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology and the Shepherd School of Music.

For the full text of the theory paper, visit http://www.frontiersin.org/Auditory_Cognitive_Neuroscience/10.3389/
fpsyg.2012.00327/abstract.

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,708 undergraduates and 2,374 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice has been ranked No. 1 for best quality of life multiple times by the Princeton Review and No. 4 for “best value” among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. To read “What they’re saying about Rice,” go to http://futureowls.rice.edu/images/futureowls/Rice_Brag_Sheet.pdf.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Original article: http://news.rice.edu/2012/09/18/theory-music-underlies-language-acquisition/