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Language is Derived from Music: Study Could Aid People with Speech Disorders

Update Date: Sep 19, 2012 10:22 AM EDT
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Contrary to prior theories that assert music is a byproduct of language, music theorists at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) advocate that language is a derivative of music.

"Infants listen first to sounds of language and only later to its meaning," said Anthony Brandt, co-author of a theory paper published online this month in the journal Frontiers in Cognitive Auditory Neuroscience. "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."

The paper cites various studies that show what the newborn brain is capable of, such as the ability to distinguish or basic distinctive units of speech sound, and and such attributes as pitch, rhythm and timbre; hence a child's ability to learn up to 5 languages by time they are five

Learning the lyrics to music is easier then learning a whole other language in general. When English speakers listen to Korean Pop sensation Psy's Gundam Style, we do not really know what is going on: but we understand the gist and for those of you who have a car radio, you probably even know most of the lyrics, or at least as best you can through the language barrier. 

You know, like this Bulgarian Idol hopeful:

In their paper, 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. "We show that music and language develop along similar time lines," he said.

Brandt notes in his paper:

"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 and colleagues hope that further research would shed more light on why music therapy is helpful for people with reading and speech disorders noting that "A lot of people with language deficits also have musical deficits," Brandt said.

More research could also open new doors to music based rehabilitation methods for stroke victims: "Music helps them reacquire language, because that may be how they acquired language in the first place."

The article is published in the Frontiers of in Auditory Cognitive Nueroscience.

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