Much of what I’m going to write about today and in my next post was inspired by Dean Falk’s wonderful book, Finding Our Tongues: Mothers, Infants, and the Origins of Language.
When I left off (July 27), we were talking about human mothers having to carry their babies in their arms. This was because in order to develop a big brain, yet still fit through the human birth canal, a human baby must be born very immature. Too immature to hang on to its mother while she gathers food.
However, studies of primates, including humans, show that primate infants need virtually constant body contact with their mothers in order to survive in healthy shape. And these primate infants make sure they get the contact if at all possible by complaining and crying whenever their mothers put them down.
So before the invention of baby slings, early human mothers has a big problem. They needed both hands for gathering food. To free both hands, they had to put their babies down. But when they did so, the babies would complain and cry noisily, attracting predators.
In order to minimize the risk, Falk (along with a number of other researchers) surmises that mothers made noises to soothe their infants, noises similar to the ones other primate mothers make to their babies.
Each time a human baby would cry out, its mother would respond. This “taking turns” making noises would be a kind of conversation. As the conversation of soft sounds became a habitual way to keep the baby safely quiet instead of dangerously noisy, mother-infant talk would include facial expressions and gestures.
A female baby raised in this way, would learn to do the same with her younger siblings when she helped look after them. All females would grow up to do this with their own babies.
Of course this isn’t full blown language, but it certainly makes a good start. And there’s much more to tell in my next post about this growing prehistoric spiritual bond between early human mothers and their babies.