Music is not a by-product of language as it comes first, underlying people’s ability to acquire a dialect, a new study has found.

The finding contradicts the prevailing theories that music and language are cognitively separate, or that music is a by-product of language.

According to a study, “spoken language is a special type of music,” co-author of the study, Anthony Brandt said.

“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,” he said.

Brandt said that infants listen first to sounds of language and only later to its meaning.

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 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,” he added.

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.

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Cognitive Auditory Neuroscience

(This article was published on September 19, 2012)
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