“Motherese” and the Origins of Music

      After the appearance of the collection of articles “The Origins of Music” (Wallin, Merker, Brown, 2000) the subject was a debated topic of human evolutionary history. There are currently many hypotheses (not necessarily conflicting) about the origins of music. Some suggest that the origin of music likely stems from naturally occurring sounds and rhythms. Human music may echo these phenomena using patterns, repetition and tonality. Even today, some cultures have certain instances of their music intending to imitate natural sounds.

    Another possible origin of music is motherese, the vocal-gestural communication between adults (usually mothers) and infants. This form of communication involves melodic, rhythmic and movement patterns as well as the communication of intention and meaning, and in this sense are similar to music. Motherese has two main functions: to strengthen bonding between mother and infant, and to help the infant to acquire language. Both of these functions enhance the infant’s chances of survival and may therefore be subject to natural selection. Motherese has a gestural vocabulary that is similar across cultures. The way mothers and babies raise and lower their voices and simultaneously change their expressions and move their hands is similar in Asia and Europe, for example (in spite of linguistic differences such as tone languages versus non-tone languages).

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