Which Came First: Music or Language?

Which came first, language or music? It’s not just a “chicken or the egg” sort of question. Many linguists and theorists have debated this subject. For a protracted time, the accepted norm stated that music appears “to be derived from language,” meaning that music could be a subset of verbal communication. However, modern research is painting a special picture. There’s an earlier episode of Timeline called “Baby Talk” that dives into that research regarding the event of human communication.

It just seems to spark one thousand more questions. Could there be songs that predate language? features a mother always sung minor thirds over her child as she cradles them? Have lovers always cooed to every other to specific their affection?

But this tradition is changing. Consider the following:

  • There’s archaeological evidence—cave drawings, artistic weaponry, sculptures—that are as old as 70,000 years. The oldest device, a bone flute dated at 40,000 years old, was discovered in Germany some years ago. it isn’t an outsized leap to think that singing emerged before more sophisticated wind playing.
  • One core feature of evolution is “survival of the fittest,” that the genes of those who lived long enough and reproduced were those that got passed down. and people who survived were people who were good at problem-solving. They worked out ways to measure through cold winters and avoid the tigers. Being creative helps one problem-solve, which in our example helps one survive and ends up in the thought that it is the creative brains that got passed down from our ancestors.
  • Evolutionary development is commonly considered to mirror child development. Perhaps it’s through singing, dancing, and playing that early humans developed their cognitive, language, social, and emotional skills also.

Music failed to emerge as a result of the emergence and development of language. Music came FIRST. The language part came later. This led them to hypothesize that language is healthier thought of as a special style of music. When it involves the adaptive role and purpose of music, there’s still lots to be told. The evidence isn’t yet strong.



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