‘Expressions of belonging: the effect of acculturation on the rhythm and harmony of mother-infant vocal interaction’

If you like Steiner’s thinking about rhythms at all, you’ll probably like this research, too. Maya Gratier explains that:

A sense of timing is as crucial in non-verbal communication as it is in verbal communication and, for the infant, lays the ground for the development of motor skills, perceptual, cognitive and linguistic abilities. The infant’s world is fundamentally temporal: outside reality is an amalgam of sensations of varying intensities over time, and life on the inside is governed by a host of biological and motor rhythms (the sleep-wake cycle, heart beat, sucking, etc.).  Very young, and even premature, infants have an intimate knowledge of timing in interactive exchange. They can listen attentively while awaiting their turn to step into the flow of interaction at the appropriate [-p.94] moment, and they can participate in jointly created synchronous expressions with adults.” (pp.93-94)

Gratier continues: “Research on infants’ temporal regulations of behaviour suggests that rhythm represents a fundamental mode of expression for the infant. Neonates have been shown to be capable of modifying the temporal parameters of non-nutritive sucking activity. Infants can also adapt their actions in an effort to match environmentally produced periodicities, thus breaking free of their endogenous or biological rhythms. Infants also show a precocious ability to anticipate events, they are cued in to temporality. Infants, moreover, are born with an eagerness to match their experience with that of other experiencing beings, to come into phase with others, to be ‘on the same wave-length’. They have been found to parse or group notes of melodic sound patterns in a similar way to adult listeners, detecting and placing pauses at appropriate intervals. It is not surprising then that infants prefer intact musical phrases and natural clauses in speech [I have omitted the references from my quotation]. Two-month old infants can discriminate between different rhythmic sequences which points toward an ability to experience acoustic events as interconnected and not as discreet, non-contingent happenings. Sound and silence, for the infant, weave together.

Rhythm, then, represents the infant’s fundamental tool for communication with the outside world, and sensitivity for rhythm goes hand in hand with a basic human desire for the sharing of affect and experience. Interactions of infants, around six weeks after birth, have been shown to be organised around the same primary rhythmic rules as adult conversation. The infant is capable of initiating and regulating a communicative exchange with the mother through a series of carefully timed utterances emitted in turn. Research based on models of adult conversation shows that the length of pauses found between a communicative partner’s utterances and that found between the two partners’ utterances is the same for both the mother and the infant (around 800ms). Each partner, it seems, awaits its turn to vocalise or speak. Mothers and infants have a very precise sense of the dynamic unfolding of expression in time.” (p.94)

“Research on pre-verbal communication between mothers suffering from postnatal depression and their infants offers further evidence of the central importance of timing and rhythm in the sharing of affective, subjective and meaningful states of [-p.96] consciousness. Depressed mothers are more controlling and less focused on the infant. They tend to be subjectively cut off from their infants, so their mental worlds are somewhat disconnected from those of their infants. In healthy dyads, mental worlds coalesce through the dynamic unfolding of expressions in time – mother and infant become a sort of dual entity and thus share feelings and meanings ‘from the inside’.
Research on rhythmic patterns in depressed mother-infant vocal interaction show a loss of regularity, a flattening of vocal prosody, a dramatic slowing down of turn-taking sequences to the extent that the contingency of responses becomes ambiguous. Depressed dyads synchronise their vocalisations less frequently than non-depressed dyads and can get caught up in a vicious circle by which the off-beat timing of their interactions reinforces feelings of rejection and pessimism, reinforcing, in turn, the rhythmic separation between mother and infant. What is more, it has been shown that infants of depressed mothers gradually adopt a depressed style of interaction, showing less and less interest in communicating with their mothers. Rhythm, thus can be seen as the communicating door between two minds, leading to transmission of motives and awareness before language can serve that function.” (pp.95-96)

Mothering practices […] form a crucial part of the context into which the infant is born and have a direct influence on the particular cultural reality he or she will begin to incorporate. Cross-cultural research on parenting shows how specific ways of caring for infants influence the belief and value systems that define different cultures. Mothering practices have usually evolved progressively, sometimes over many generations, and in resonance with a particular socio-ecological environment. The anthropologist Marcel Mauss (1934) suggests that the way one uses one’s body is a constitutive element of personal identity, and that therefore any sudden change in one’s habitual gestures, physical practices and postures immediately entails a re-organisation, or at times a crisis, of identity. Thus every human conduct has a meaning within a given context.
Emigration is known to bring about sudden disruptions of identity, placing the individual between two separate realities whose belief systems and behavioural patterns may be contradictory. An immigrant mother is often in an intensely confusing situation, and she may not have the mental resources to deal with necessary identity issues because her primary concern becomes her role as mother. Competition between culturally different mothering practices may cause further distress and anxiety for a young immigrant mother. The immigrant mother must often choose between two competing models. She may succeed in combining both models harmoniously and thus restructure her identity, but she may [-p.100] also lose her adaptive flexibility and feel unable to share a unified cultural reality with her infant.” (pp.99-100)

I recommend this article! Beautifully written and incredibly interesting….

Ref: Maya Gratier (1999-2000) ‘Expressions of belonging: the effect of acculturation on the rhythm and harmony of mother-infant vocal interaction’ Musicae Scientiae Special Issue 1999-2000, pp.93-122

Abstract: “The rhythmic structure of naturally occurring mother-infant vocal interaction was analysed within three different cultural contexts. Previous research suggests that rhythm is used universally to facilitate the sharing of affect and meaning. Well-timed mother-infant communication is thought to permit a particular form of direct mind-to-mind communication. The purpose of the study was to ascertain whether one of the functions of this ‘intersubjective’ communication is to allow culturally significant experiences to be shared at a non-verbal and affect-bound level. The main hypothesis was that changes in the cultural identity of the mother, and her sense of emotional security, would significantly affect the rhythmic organisation of non-verbal vocal interaction. Out of thirty-six mother-infant dyads studied, twelve were from India and lived in India, twelve were from India and lived in France, and twelve were from France and lived in France. The results suggest that immigrant dyads have significantly less well-timed vocal interactions than non-immigrant dyads and that this is due to an identity confusion on the part of the immigrant mother. Other factors that may influence the rhythmicity of the vocal interactions of immigrant dyads were examined. Results also highlighted cultural differences in the nature and form of the mothers’ vocalisations.” (p.93)

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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