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Steven Brown and Aniruddhi D Patel (2008)

Music of language or language of music?

Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(7):246-7.

The 19th century saw intense discussions about the evolutionary relationship between music and language. Spearheaded by Herbert Spencer’s 1857 essay ‘The Origin and Function of Music’ [1] and its novel thesis that music evolved as an emotional accentuation of speech, this movement caused not just Charles Darwin to get into the act of discussing music evolution but also many renowned figures from physiology, anthropology and musicology. Although interest in this topic continued into the first half of the 20th century, the cognitive revolution of the second half of the century effectively catapulted language into a unique position as a symbolic information-processing system, one that made any connection with music seem all but irrelevant. This attitude has persisted to the present day. Although many music psychologists still cling to a faith in the kinship between music and language, music doesn’t really have a place on the map for the majority of linguists. And the evolutionary aspersions cast by linguists like Steven Pinker [2] – that music is a functionless fancy – only helps to solidify the apparent demise of music–language theories.

evolution, music, language