“As early as the first day of life, the human neonate moves in precise and sustained segments of movement that are synchronous with the articulated structure of adult speech.  These observations suggest a view of development of the infant as a participant at the outset in multiple forms of interactional organization, rather than as an isolate. …  In contrast, microanalysis of pathological behavior — for instance, that of subjects with aphasic, autistic, and schizophrenic conditions — reveals marked self-asynchronies.  Delayed auditory feedback also markedly disturbs this self-synchrony. …  For example, as the adult emits the KK of “come,” which lasts for 0.07 second, the infant’s head moves right very slightly (Rvs), the left elbow extends slightly (Es), the right shoulder rotates outward slightly (ROs) the right hip rotates outward fast (ROf), the left hip extends slightly (Es), and the big toe of the left foot adjusts (AD).  These body parts sustain these directions and speeds of movement together for this 0.07-second interval.  This forms a “unit” composed of the sustained relation of these movements of the body. …  This 2-day-old infant displayed segments of movement synchronous with the adult’s speech during the entire 89-word sequence.  In other words, this is a sustained and precise occurrence.  Another 2-day-old infant sustained similarly synchronous movement throughout a series of 125 words of tape-recorded female speech. …  This study reveals a complex interaction system in which the organization of the neonate’s motor behavior is entrained by and synchronized with the organized speech behavior of adults in his environment.  If the infant, from the beginning, moves in precise, shared rhythm with the organization of the speech structure of his culture, then he participates developmentally through complex, sociobiological entrainment processes in millions of repetitions of linguistic forms long before he later uses them in speaking and communicating.  By the time he begins to speak, he may have already laid down within himself the form and structure of the language system of his culture.  This would encompass as multiplicity of interlocking aspects: rhythmic and syntactic “hierarchies,” suprasegmental features, and paralinguistic nuances, not to mention body motion styles and rhythms.  This may provide an empirical basis for a new approach to language acquisition.” (Condon, W. S. & Sander, L. W. (1974) Neonate movement is synchronized with adult speech: interactional participation and language acquisition.  Science 183: pp. 99-101)

I came across a passage that referred to the work above maybe thirty years ago.  It might have been while I was studying Neurolinguistic Programming in 1981.  I was astonished that such a thing could be true, that newborn infants were wiring in the sounds of their environment with micro movements that allowed them to integrate the world into their body, not just their brain.  The research suggested that human development was being informed by the environment in ways both subtle and deep.  We are likely listening and dancing to the sounds we hear while enveloped in the waters of the womb.

In 1997, I was standing in line at the grocery store at Jewel in Evanston.  On the cover of one of the gossip mags was a reference to a study that children can learn to sign earlier than they can learn to talk.  Almost a year and a half into a research binge even deeper than the one I had been involved in when I was studying Neurolinguistic Programming, seeing the reference to sign coming before speech, remembering the study about dancing infants, I was hit by associational lightning.  Everything made sense.  I felt a certainty that everything was connected.  I could see the surface of where these connections were, but they quickly receded beyond what I could consciously grasp.  At that point I was reading perhaps two books a week, mostly anthropology, comparative religion and evolutionary biology.  The pace accelerated.  And then, six months later, after I’d departed from my profession (running a sales firm), I descended completely into study, mostly neuropsychology.

Six months after that, about a year after the grocery store line revelation, I stepped back into shared reality to find a new profession.  A peculiar aspect of my previous profession, selling calendars and greeting cards, is that I got paid almost a year after an order was written.  The Far Side calendars by Gary Larson sold to Montgomery Wards, Sears, Walgreens and OSCO made it possible for me to disappear into the arcane details of the contemporary neurological implications of 19th century theories of biological evolution examined from a social structure point of view.

A reference to children speaking in sign before speech reminding me of a paper on infants embedding language in the body made the association that provided the perspective to see connections where I only suspected that connections were.  I believe it was the National Inquirer that ran the story about children and signing.  Inspiration can come from unlikely places.

For more details on this adventure, click here.


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