This week a new essay came out in which I try to make a case for ‘illiterate listening’, the human ability to discern, interpret and appreciate musical nuances. We have known for some time that babies possess a keen perceptual sensitivity for the melodic, rhythmic and dynamic aspects of speech and music: aspects that linguists are inclined to categorize under the term ‘prosody’, but which are in fact the building blocks of music. Only much later in a child’s development does s/he make use of this ‘musical prosody’, for instance in delineating and subsequently recognizing word boundaries. We all share these musical skills, from day one, and long before a single word has been uttered, let alone conceived. It is the preverbal and preliterate stage of our development that is dominated by musical listening.
The Illiterate listener is available online since August 9, 2011.
Honing, H. (2011). The illiterate listener. On music cognition, musicality and methodology. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.