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[xmca] Born Open Minded

First of all, there is a marvelous piece of reading to go with this thread (whose name I have taken the liberty of rendering slightly more transparent). It comes with a rather stern warning not to distribute on a list serve, but you can download it very easily for yourself, right here:
It's called "The Poetics of Babtalk", and for those of you who don't have the time to read it I will summarize it very briefly.
It's all about a one minute stretch of motherese recored in the laboratory of Colwyn Trevarthen in Glasgow. You can get a pretty good feeling of the data if snap your fingers and chant the stresses rhythmically in four-four time while you read it:
Oh, WHAT you SAY? You're going to TELL me a STOR-y?
       TELL me a STOR-y then.            TELL me a STOR-y.
        REAL-ly!    AH, that's a              GOOD       STOR-y.
        TELL me    MORE.                    TELL me     MORE, yes? (Ah!)
         COME on THEN.                      (rest)           (rest).
If you do this, you will recognize almost immediately the basic rhythm of jazz, masterfully exploited for Carolyn Graham's "jazz chants" (which not coincidentally featured large in the recently circulated Levykh article on language teaching and the emotional roots of the zone of proximal development). For those of you who have never seen a jazz chant in action, I strongly recommend the following youtube video of Russian second graders doing "Goldilocks and the Three Bears":
But there's a lot more. There are four other verses that are quite similar in rhythm and stress, but differ in poetical theme ("You're struggling to get out of your chair?" "Big yawns", "Your ear's all squashed"). 
In their discussion of these four verses, Miall and Dissanayake have the rhythmic qualities of the motherese just right. Their segmental analysis seems much more speculative to me; they argue that the frequent movement from "front vowels" and "back vowels" we see in baby talk (and also in expressions like "flip flop", "scrimble scramble") involve a gesture from intimacy to distance, a creation and then a stretching of attachment. 
There are some problems with this very Jakobsonian (structuralist) analysis. First of all, the frontness and backness that created the basis for this very structuralist (Jakobsonian) theory is not a physical fact (except that it does, strangely, correlate with the second formant of a speech spectrograph!). There isn't really any "frontness" in front vowels or"backness" in back vowels. 
Secondly, in consonants and in vowel/consonant segemenst generally we often observe the reverse movement--that is, in baby talk consonants tend to get more CLOSED and not more OPEN, as in "higgledy piggledy" and "hickory dictory" and "ally bally" and even "ah ha") as well as in the speeches in Hamlet that Miall and Dissanayake refer to.
But I really find myself in COMPLETE agreement with their theoretical considerations:
a) The impulse to art is simultaneously 100% biological and 100% sociological. Babies are born open minded and hope in handed. The poetics of baby talk is a perfectly cultural consequence of this natural predisposition, more or less exactly what you would expect to find in a highly advanced ape that suddenly became hypersocial and pancultural.
b) The impulse to art has been portrayed (interestingly, chiefly in the work of male scholars and artists) as a matter of pushing the pleasure button, as ornamentation which is created by sexual competition and sexual selection. This is an anachronism, a teleology, a self-serving projection backwards onto the child by the adult scholar. There is a deeper, more fundamental impulse right here--the child's life and death struggle for attachment (Bowlby).
c)  The "high" art of competition and pleasure in fact leads in a pretty direct way to the very lowest forms of purely self-interested art (Miall and Dissanayake rather harshly include cheesecake along with pornography and recreational drugs). The "low" art of motherese points in precisely the opposite direction. 
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Wed, 4/28/10, Monica Hansen <monica.hansen@vandals.uidaho.edu> wrote:

From: Monica Hansen <monica.hansen@vandals.uidaho.edu>
Subject: RE: [xmca] Honestly....
To: "'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Wednesday, April 28, 2010, 4:22 PM

I just have to weigh in here as a mother. I have one child out of three who
was born with what I might call an insatiable exploratory drive. I did read
to her before she was born, probably more than she should have had a right
to hear, but I don't necessarily think this is what caused her to be the way
she is (as if there could be one cause). I did similar things with the
others. Anyone who has known my daughter from birth would not dare utter a
statement that children are born with nothing. On the other hand, in working
very closely with many babies and toddlers throughout my career, I would say
there are those that can resemble a "blank slate". Mild mannered, alert,
open, but not assertively self-indulgent, not outwardly social. I'm going to
second Rod, here and say culturation is a factor even before birth, but
genes do have something to do with what and how long certain characteristics
and behaviors take to develop. I also want to point out that development is
not static and it is very difficult to isolate a particular moment when a
person begins to have personality, unless we want to go toward the theory of
the soul attaches at birth (also very difficult to prove empirically).

My views on theories of development have certainly been tested by my
experience with certain individuals. I can't help but wonder what my beliefs
about development might have been if I had been given my first and most
intimate research opportunity with a different child who had less of a
personality from the very beginning. It makes me wonder what type of babies
some of those theorists were actually involved with ;).


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
Behalf Of Rod Parker-Rees
Sent: Tuesday, April 27, 2010 12:09 AM
To: ablunden@mira.net; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] Honestly....

Andy - as to what children are born with - what of the enculturation that
proceeds before birth? In the last months of pregnancy the foetus is
literally immersed in the life of its mother, absorbing rhythms of movement,
speech, waking and sleeping, even feeding and drinking. In 'the West', and
fairly recently, we have exaggerated the identification of the moment of
birth with the separation of the 'individual' child from the mother but at
other times and still in other places this transition is much slower as the
newborn baby continues to spend much of its time held close to its mother.
Do we have any studies on the early development of deaf blind children who
are born into this world of touch and contact?

It may be that there is a developmental point when we have absolutely
nothing but I think it is difficult to argue that this is true of the
newborn child. Of course if children are isolated from the person with whom
they have developed some form of proto-familiarity they are less likely to
be able to continue to develop their ability to engage actively with their
environment but this does not mean that they had nothing to develop!

All the best,


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: 27 April 2010 04:31
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Honestly....

Martin, have a look at this book, around p 147-8 and around p  238. The
claim is that human children are not born with any exploratory drive; even
this has to be "trained." Human beings certainly have a propensity towards
collaboration, joint attention and so on, but these have to be drawn out and
trained, or we have absolutely nothing.


Martin Packer wrote:
> On Apr 26, 2010, at 9:52 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>> even the tendency to engage in interaction is acquired only because other
human beings around the child "summon" the child to interaction.
> Andy, I wouldn't say this statement is incorrect, but I don't think it is
the whole story. Here is the abstract of a new paper:
> Martin
> Human Nature: A Comparative Overview
> Hogh-Olesen, Henrik
> Journal of Cognition and Culture (ISSN: 1567-7095); Volume 10, No. 1-2,
pp. 59-84(26); April 2010
> Abstract:
> The differences and similarities between human and non-human animals are
constantly up for discussion and an overview is needed. Four central fields
of behaviour related to (1) complex symbolic activities, (2) tool making and
tool use, (3) culture and social transmission and (4) sociality and
morality, are surveyed and comparatively analysed to identify particular
human characteristics. Data from a broad range of sciences are brought
together to introduce light and shade into the picture. The differences
found inside field four are especially striking. Humans are "ultra-social".
Evolution seems to have favoured a more collaborative kind of sociality in
our species, and features like other-regarding preferences, large scale
cooperation with non-kin, and strangers as well as third-party sanctions,
appear to be derived properties of humans that have evolved after Homo and
Pan diverged._______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
> http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca

Andy Blunden http://home.mira.net/~andy/ +61 3 9380 9435 
Skype andy.blunden
An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity: 

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