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Maya Gratier and Colwyn Trevarthen

Musical Narrative and Motives


for Culture in Mother–Infant
Vocal Interaction
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[...] one of the most ubiquitous and powerful discourse forms in human
communication is narrative. Narrative structure is even inherent in the
praxis of social interaction before it achieves linguistic expression.
(Bruner, 1990, p. 77).
It takes about twelve months before a linguistic consciousness begins
to emerge in the human infant. But this momentous accession to a
realm of meaning where sounds and relations between sounds stand
for things and events in symbolic ways crucially depends on a prehis-
tory of meaningful communication by more direct, or more essential,
means. The mastery of language enabling the discrete labelling of
intentions, desires and beliefs with precise reference to non-present
objects and events is generally associated with the singular develop-
ment of human culture. Language and cultural knowledge are deemed
to be two of the most distinctively human abilities. Thus having a con-
sciousness of culture might depend on the child being able to under-
stand words and speak, to partake in the conversational negotiation of
norms and plans of action in talk or text. But well before infants start
experimenting with newly acquired sounds of language, before they
attend to the specific syllables that must be strung together to form a
word standing for something in a local world of meaning held-in-
common, they are involved in a non verbal semiosis of mimetic
expression and sympathetic action, which is already distinctly human
(Trevarthen, 1990; 1994).

Correspondence:
mgratier@u-paris10.fr, gratier@gmail.com, c.trevarthen@ed.ac.uk

Journal of Consciousness Studies, 15, No. 10–11, 2008, pp. 122–58


MUSICAL NARRATIVE AND MOTIVES 123

In the vocal ‘protoconversations’ (Bateson, 1979; Trevarthen,


1974) that start to liven spontaneous interactions a few weeks after
birth, infants show a precocious sense of rhythm and an interest in
the qualities of intention and interest in mothers’ sounds. A growing
control of breath and vocal projection enhances mastery over vocal
production through modulation of pitch, intensity and timbre. In
lively exchanges involving both vocal and whole body actions,
infants begin to express their states of engagement and to sense feel-
ings and purposeful states of mind in others (Reddy, 2008).
This paper is concerned with the forms of meaningful engagement
that emerge in vocal interactions with preverbal infants, in particular
with the narrative organisation of coordinated expression in time. We
relate culture and meaning in preverbal exchange to an ‘implicit
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knowing’ involving nonconscious habits, procedures and patterns


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(Gratier, 2001; Stern, 2004) derived from direct perception of the pur-
poseful and coordinated body mouvements of self and other, or what
Stein Bråten (1988; 1998) has termed ‘felt immediacy’. Shared focus
and affective involvement with the expressions of another in observ-
able interpersonal interaction attest to the unique intersubjective
awareness that leads infants to participate in the activity of culture.
With Jerome Bruner (1990) we believe that narrative is a fundamental
mode of human collective thinking — and acting — and that its basic
function is the production of meaning or ‘world making’.
We first attempt to redefine the boundaries of the term ‘narrative’ to
include ‘narratives without words’ based on processes of temporal
organisation in language and music. In the second section of the paper,
we describe what we take to be indices of a narrative organisation in
live mother–infant interaction based on its ‘communicative musicality’.
The third section presents the speculative claim that the interactions
between young infants and adults are not only narrative in form but also
present a narrative content of ‘common sense’ based on what we call a
‘proto-habitus’. In the fourth and fifth sections we present some
empirical evidence for the narrative organisation of both spontane-
ous mother-infant vocal interaction and interaction based on singing
for and with infants.

I. What is Narrative Without Words?


Narrative is most often considered a language-based way of telling a
story, and studies of verbal narrative, including both written and oral
forms of ‘telling’, are typically concerned with elements of structure,
coherence-producing linguistic devices and individual modes of
124 M. GRATIER AND C. TREVARTHEN

production. Verbal narratives have been shown to present a number of


central features, such as deliberate action, a plot including trouble and
its resolution, protagonists and a narrator (Burke, 1945; Herman, 2007;
Propp, 1928; Sartre, 1947), some of which have, however, been seri-
ously challenged in sophisticated 20th century genres of fiction, theatre
and poetry.
If we examine the history and variety of the activity of human story-
telling we must assume that it is rooted in oral and mimetic traditions –
as tales told in live talk by a ‘literary’ mind that must think and believe
in parables (Turner, 1996). And as an oral tradition, the story is always
situated within, and referring to, a specific socio-cultural context.
Moreover, it is naturally a multi-modal activity involving whole-body
communication of agency. In oral narrative, the narrator moves with
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the story, tells and ‘acts’ the story not only with words and proposi-
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tions craftily strung together, but also with the complex and subtle
inflections and cadences of voice and with well-coordinated gestures
and body movements expressive of emotion. The narrator is engaged
with an audience who become, through nonverbal participation and
modulations of concentration and involvement, listening co-tellers of
the story (Duranti, 1986). A narrator monitors the ebb and flow of
attention among the listeners, regulates the building of tension and its
release, speeds up or slows down and when necessary clarifies con-
tent. The music and dance of ‘telling’ the story, the performer’s pres-
ent engagement, not just the linguistic construction of themes, motifs
and plot lines as may be represented in the conventional grammar of
text, are crucial aspects of live narrative. In live narrative, it is the
musicality of voice and body that holds listeners’ attention so that they
can be brought simultaneously to share in the experience of a dra-
matic, challenging moment, and brought back together to more famil-
iar situations. Written narrative which came out of oral narrative may
be seen as involving not only cognitive processes of understanding
and remembering but also embodied perceptions of the tension and
drama of shared emotion. Poetic stories link many minds in imagined
space and time.
Narrative is perhaps best understood in the context of performance,
drama and ritual, and there is evidence that these were the meaningful
social activities from which more localized and personal processes of
recounting emerged (Turner, 1982; Dissanayake, 2000). Aristotle saw
the origins of narrative in mimetic behaviour, in the act of re-presentation
as an active dynamic process. According to this view, echoed in
Ricoeur’s important writings (Ricoeur, 1983) and in the theory of
Merlin Donald (2001) who sees transmission of conscious ideas and
MUSICAL NARRATIVE AND MOTIVES 125

purposes by mimesis as the evolutionary precursor of communication


in language, narrative must be seen as dynamic, temporally organised
action or praxis, rather than as structure. In this sense, because verbal
narrative invariably involves some form of action, or happening, it
can be seen as being based on a sequencing of nonverbal acts. And this
touches upon a first way in which narratives can be meaningful with-
out words. Repeated chains of gesture, body movement and facial
expression can stimulate shared narrative imagination — a sympathy
for purposeful agency . The kind of wordless narrative we are con-
cerned with, which we think supports infant experience through lov-
ing social interaction, involves reciprocal motivated ‘enactment’
based on intuitively regulated temporal contours of expressive sound
and movement.
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Narrative explains, coordinates and retraces trajectories of actions


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(Sartre, 1947), and its coherence and unity is based on the ways in
which its parts are related temporally and causally (Ochs, 1997). But
what are the actions or events that make up a narrative? And by what
forces are they held together? The sequential pattern of beginning,
middle and end appears to be a central frame for the narrative process
(Bruner, 2002; Imberty, 2005; Labov, 2001; Ricoeur, 1983). In
language-based narratives, ordered sequences of clauses are related to
the organisation of past events reported by the narrator (Labov &
Waletsky, 1967). It is the particular way in which the elements are
ordered and given ‘energy’ that endows a sequence with narrative
intent. Sequences of events can be considered as units, but they are
inherently interdependent in an economy of energy or vitality (Bruner,
1990; Stern, 1998;1999).
Narrative is also the purposeful basis for making practical and
social meaning in a human world of artefacts, techniques and conven-
tions (Bruner, 1990). It is both rooted in shared histories and it creates
new memories. History and memory, of course, are inherently narra-
tive. Narrative, ‘about’ actors and actions, plays a central role in
almost every conversation (Labov, 2001). Conversational narratives
involve tellers and listeners who can either maintain their respective
roles throughout the narrative episode or can exchange roles in active
alternation as in the collaborative reconstruction of common past
experiences. Elinor Ochs (Ochs, 1997; Ochs & Capps, 2001) has stud-
ied the interactional production of narrative in conversational
discourse and she has shown how social relationships and identities are
negotiated on-line through the collaborative shaping of the stories of
every-day life. Personal identities and cultural histories are narrated and
collaboratively shaped involving many protagonists, present or absent.
126 M. GRATIER AND C. TREVARTHEN

Typically, a narrative is about something worth telling (Bruner,


1990; Labov, 2001). It is about an event involving other persons that a
person feels impelled to recount. A narrator strings together the events
involving protagonists in some unusual state of affairs or ‘fate’.
Bruner and Feldman (1993) describe the simplest form of narrative as
a format involving a canonical steady-state, a precipitating event, a
restoration and a coda. But, as they point out, the mere sequential
nature of events does not in itself generate a narrative experience. The
parts of a narrative sequence must be tied together in a motivating plot
or ‘intrigue’ that sets the whole thing into motion, creating, or express-
ing, what Labov (1972) called ‘lines of dramatic tension’ leading to a
point of closure. Plot can be seen as a motive force that creates the spe-
cial time and energetic flow of narrative for living subjects. Plot lines
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connect the themes, motives and characters that make up a story told
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with words and bring about tension-creating changes in them. The


basic constituents of a narrative sequence, that can be thought of as
orientation, chorus, crises, resolution and coda, form a dynamic
rise-and-decline energetic contour. We contend that this energetic
contour is at the heart of nonverbal narrative activity. Although topic
or ‘aboutness’ is a distinctive feature that is supposed to confine narra-
tive to the realm of language, can’t sound and gesture, albeit patterned
in a certain way, also be about something other than themselves?
Music does not tell us anything in particular about events, states of
affairs or other people. Yet most would agree that music is personally
and culturally meaningful — though its meanings are nomadic, shift-
ing and fluid, it has moved people and organised social encounters
throughout the history of humankind (Dissanayake, 2000; Falk, 2000;
Freeman, 2000; Kühl, 2007). At times the sounds of music tell or
recall stories that lie beyond them, and yet all the time their telling is
confined to their own energetic trajectories. Music, at least until
Schönberg, is thought of as being narrative (Imberty, 2005; 2008;
Mâche, 1998), both because it has the power to involve listeners in a
different time and world of meaning and because it can evoke known
situations that sustain an orientation to the future. Music provides a
powerful example of narrative without words, both in terms of form
and in terms of content. Not only is it inherently sequential, it begins,
progresses and ends and its modulations of tension and energy are its
very fabric (Imberty, 1979; 1981), but it can also be related to things
outside itself because it is situated in and itself contains historic
remembered and imagined time.
In song, music is a natural partner for the cadenced language of
poetry, the prosodic expression of emotions in dynamic
MUSICAL NARRATIVE AND MOTIVES 127

intersubjective synchrony that Ivan Fonagy (2001) calls ‘languages


within language’, the ‘distant past … still present in live speech …
[which] enables the speaker and the poet to express preconscious and
subconscious mental contents that could not be conveyed by means of
the grammar of any language’, employing a ‘proto-grammar’ tran-
scending the differences between particular languages. This is what
the Danish jazz musician and semiotician Ole Kühl (2007) has defined
as ‘musical semantics’. It is the foundation for even the most rational
and apparently unemotional and informative forms of communication
cultivated in technically advanced forms of human cooperative activity
— such as mathematics or philosophical logic.
Jazz musicians describe the feeling of ‘saying something’ with
sound, of telling a story, in the course of improvising together
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(Monson, 1996). It is the narrative in music that involves and moves


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people, their minds and their bodies, so that their experiences flow in a
common musical time in synchrony with the unfolding energies of the
sound of moving in time. Like verbal stories they carry their audiences
off to other worlds (Bruner, 1990) and into other times. Good narra-
tives are by definition compelling and they are above all about sharing
intention and agency — a narrator feels, as a ‘doer’, impelled to tell a
compelling story. The narration is intended to produce in the audience
a profound concentration of attention. Narrative in this fully alive
sense is a sort of collective journey. It is a way of sharing persuasive
experience in a ‘special’ time, with its own past, present and future,
which is not the mundane time of everyday living.
Narrative tension creates dramatic moments that stand out and that
are memorable as shared emotional experiences. Musical processes
such as changes in dynamics, melody and harmonic progression, tim-
bre or rhythmic structure, underlie subtle shifts in intensity and
involvement in human engagement, even moral commitments. Cli-
mactic moments, based on building intensity through dynamic
shaping of expectation based on familiar states of affairs, are associated
with a discharge of tension and a resulting emotional response (Meyer,
1956). Daniel Stern (2004) describes the occurrence of similar moments
in everyday and psychotherapeutic interactions.
Ingrid Monson (1996) suggests that the development of intensity
(‘intensification’) through a musical performance combines ‘internal’
musical elements that build and release tension with ‘intermusical’
elements that situate the performance within its historical and cultural
contexts, in relation to other musics and their stories. In other words,
narrative involvement is derived from both a general, perhaps intu-
itive, way of structuring and processing experience and from
128 M. GRATIER AND C. TREVARTHEN

apprehending meaningful cultural material. In language-based narra-


tives this cultural level of narrative involvement can be associated
with ‘topic’ or the ‘aboutness’ of stories and clearly if readers or lis-
teners do not share the cultural knowledge of the storyteller they will
not experience the same energetics of narrative. In musical narratives,
‘topic’ is accessed through context-dependent indexical moves. What
gets temporarily fixed as shareable knowledge in musical practice is
derived from real life histories of performance, both personal and
cultural (Gratier, 2008). The events that make up these histories
themselves build narratives so that interactionally produced micro-
narratives are built on historically produced macro-narratives. We
remember our own life’s events by a process that Tulving (2001) has
called auto-noesis, one that, because our memories are created in com-
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munication, becomes a collaborative socio-noesis beginning in


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infancy (Trevarthen, 2007). It is important to note that between jazz


musicians, musical and verbal discourse together give form to the nar-
rative construction of shared aesthetics (Duranti & Burell, 2004;
Gratier & Stevanovic, 2008).
With these considerations of the pervasive currents of narrative
energy in human affairs, both musical and conversational, what do we
mean when we claim that mother-infant interaction is narrative — a
narrative with ‘communicative musicality’? Clearly mothers and
young infants do not relate events nor do they talk about other peo-
ple’s actions, excepting those times the mother soliloquises as she
addresses her uncomprehending but interested infant. What are the
units or sections that make up a narrative exchange between mother
and infant? And how are they held together? What is the plot? Who
does the telling and who does the listening? Are the roles of teller and
listener well defined or do mothers and babies tell or ‘make up’ stories
together? If mothers use words to speak to their preverbal babies, how
do they tell one another the same stories?

II. Narrative in Live Mother–Infant Interaction:


Involvement in Telling Together in Time
Research on the development of human communication in infancy in
the last 40 years has shown that infants enter the world with powerful
motives for culture that lead them to meaningful involvement with
adults and with the cultures they live in (Trevarthen, 1979; 1980;
1989; 1992; 1998). From birth, infants orient preferentially to the
source of human initiative and responsiveness. They listen with intent
to the affectionately modulated voices of their close kin, recognising
MUSICAL NARRATIVE AND MOTIVES 129

them as persons and recognising the particular cadences of the lan-


guages they speak based on a history of listening from life in the
womb (De Casper & Fifer, 1980; Lecanuet, 1995; Nazzi et al., 1998).
Neonatal imitation of arbitrary actions such as tongue protrusion
(Metzoff & Moore, 1977; Maratos, 1973; 1982; Kugiumutzakis,
1998) can be considered as a transaction of motives to communicate
‘acts of meaning’ (Halliday, 1975) that indeed gain their meaning in
local contexts precisely by virtue of being shared in little rituals of
exchange (Heimann, 1989; Nagy & Molnar, 2004; Trevarthen,
2001a; 2005). In a sense reciprocal imitation of arbitrary gestures
with a newborn is already a cultural act.
We define interpersonal interaction, not as the alternation of actions
connected through chains of cause and effect, but rather as common
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action, as a coordination and joining of purposeful communicative


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expression. Vocal interactions that define a ‘protoconversational


phase’ in infant development, starting around 6 to 8 weeks after birth
and lasting at least a couple of months, are characterised by turn-
taking antiphonic interchange as well as choral overlap (Stern et al.,
1975); though the ratio of single turn vocalisation to choral vocalisa-
tion has been found to be culture specific, reflecting the norms of ver-
bal conversation (Gratier, 2001; 2003). Interpersonal interaction
intuitively creates contexts for affective involvement with others,
bringing into play socio-culturally situated and embodied practices
(Sterponi, 2004).
It is well established that adults, all over the world, spontaneously
modify the cadence, pitch and intonation of their speech when
adressing infants (Fernald & Simon, 1984; Papoušek et al., 1985;
Stern et al., 1982). Their speech contains longer pauses, shorter utter-
ances, more repetition, greater modulation and width of pitch range
and enhanced articulation (Panneton et al., 2006). The unique musi-
cality of ‘motherese’ or ‘infant-directed speech’ (IDS) dynamically
guides the infant to intersubjective engagement, involving whole
body synchronisation (Condon & Sander, 1974). By the second month
after birth, infants respond with eloquent vocal sounds and expres-
sions of interest and joy, and it is clear that they themselves are moti-
vated to make a contribution. Adults in turn start to listen attentively
to what young infants have to say, taking them seriously. They formu-
late questions to which they expect answers, they tell them about the
people and events that surround them. They vary the prosody of their
speech according to the infant’s mood, intent and attention
(Pomerleau et al., 1993; Stern et al., 1982). Adults’ speech, therefore,
130 M. GRATIER AND C. TREVARTHEN

becomes expectant, feeling it must afford and acknowledge infant


participation.
The dialogue between infant and parent undergoes developmental
changes motivated by the changing motives and expectations of the
child, related to important growth of bodily and psychological powers
(Trevarthen and Aitken, 2003). A few studies have highlighted a
marked change in the quality of IDS after the sixth month. It appears
that ‘affective’ or melodic/poetic speech is gradually replaced by
more ‘informative’ speech (Bornstein et al., 1992), that topics shift
from talking about the infant’s internal states to events in the external
world (Snow, 1977), that the forms and functions of questions change.
These differences in the quality of IDS mark a transition from primary
to secondary intersubjectivity, from interpersonal involvement to
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triadic person-person-object cooperative engagement (Trevarthen


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and Hubley, 1978; Hubley and Trevarthen, 1979; Trevarthen and


Marwick, 1986; Trevarthen, 1993). We suggest that parents’ speech is
compelling for infants because it is organised in narrative time and
that infants are called to participate, as they ‘wish to do’, in the mutual
‘telling’ of the story of their special connectedness to each other in a
common meaning filled world. Infant directed speech is musical and
narrative, it is musically narrative, and so are the contributions of the
infant.
An important body of research has shown in the last 20 years that
infants have a great sensitivity to the subtle dimensions of expressive
musical sound, to melody and rhythm, timbre and consonnance
(Demany et al., 1977; Schellenberg & Trehub, 1996; Thorpe &
Trehub, 1989; Trehub et al., 1984; Trehub & Thorpe, 1989). The
mother’s voice, whether speaking or singing, is a musical instrument
whose emotional and aesthetic impact is already felt by the foetus.
And mothers around the world become passionate singers for their
babies, to amuse them or to make them sleep (Trehub et al., 1997;
Trevarthen, 1999; 2002). The musical structures of infant songs pres-
ent great similarities around the word (Unyk et al., 1992), they change
according to the ages of the infants they are made for and according to
the activity they are meant to inspire. We know that adults sing in
special ways for infants because they adjust the canonical frame of a
traditional song to fit with infants’ moods and interests (Trehub &
Trainor, 1998). The narrative structure of each verse of the song,
which has a given beginning, climax or crisis and end, gains a musical
narrativity through repetitive live co-performance with an infant, it
acquires the lines of dramatic tension and vital pulse that fire the
infant’s curiosity and imagination.
MUSICAL NARRATIVE AND MOTIVES 131

The temporal organisation and quality of vocalisation in mother–


infant interaction has been described as a ‘communicative musicality’
based on the three coordinated dimensions of ‘pulse’, ‘quality’ and
‘narrative’ (Malloch, 1999; Malloch & Trevarthen, in press;
Trevarthen, 1999). An intrinsic timing or pulse of expression, which
is thought to stem from coupled oscillators of neurobiological
‘clocks’, innate in the human mind (Jones, 1976; Pöppel, 1997;
Osborne, in press), drives the emotional energy of the moving subject.
The dynamic quality of each component movement, its force, coher-
ence, economy, modulation and harmony, signals and shapes the sub-
ject’s intent in getting across to the other. Finally the progress of
movements over longer stretches of time, their grouping into phrases
and longer episodes, defines a narrative (Malloch, 1999). There
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appears to be a deep autonomic cycle governing our physiology,


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creating fluctuations of vitality that rounds out the shareable drama of


each narrative episode lasting tens of seconds (Trevarthen, 2008).
Narrative in this sense is seen as the energetic regulation of expres-
sion that holds and directs the whole ecology of interaction based on
rhythmic engagement between mother and infant. The musicality of
an adult’s spontaneous speech and song, including body mouvements,
gestures and facial expressions, moves infants to rhythmic involve-
ment (Mazokopaki and Kugiumutzakis, in press). And the effect of
being swept up by sound in rhythm is also emotional. Daniel Stern
(1999) suggests that the subject or substance of mother–infant interac-
tion is provided by ‘vitality contours’, that is emotional ‘feeling
forms’ that map onto prosodic contours in the voice, gestural phrases
and, more generally, supramodal units of expression that are tempo-
rally shaped. He also describes these dynamic ‘vitality contours’ as
‘proto-narrative envelopes’ (Stern, 1998) because they are presented
as fluctuations of intensity that begin and end and that draw ‘lines of
dramatic tension’. What Stern describes is a kind of phrasing that is
itself narrative and that builds longer narrative sequences. This phras-
ing is marked by various indices, some which are hard to quantify,
such as sudden acceleration, pitch and intensity climaxes, final
lengthening and, of course, silences or pauses (Delavenne et al., 2008;
Gratier, 2001; 2003; Malloch, 1999). Silences give shape to the sound
of heard movement just as pauses give shape to seen movement by
imprinting rhythms of alternation. And silences between sounds, in
spoken language, in music and perhaps also in mother–infant vocal
interaction, also represent what is not said but can be sensed or
potentially anticipated.
132 M. GRATIER AND C. TREVARTHEN

In an interactive situation, where the flux of organised sound is


jointly produced, it is evident that participants come to be interdepen-
dently rhythmically attuned, in flow together. Thus, infants might lock
into the rhythm of motherese (IDS) by focussing their attention on
salient features in the stream of audible and visible expression, and
infant participation is, we find, more likely to occur at rhythmically
relevant points. Coordinated action-attention rhythms based on coor-
dinated expression in mother–infant interaction might provide a com-
mon time dimension that supports experiences of togetherness and
affective involvement, or what Schütz has called ‘the reciprocal shar-
ing of the Other’s flux of experiences in inner time’ (Schütz,
1951/1977, p. 118). Rhythm and narrative are intimately connected in
both music and in mother–infant interaction, as suggested by Malloch
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and Trevarthen’s ‘Theory of Communicative Musicality’.


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Conversational narratives are characterised by repeated phrases


(Labov, 1972), powerful scenic images and ellipsis that call on speak-
ers and listeners to actively co-construct the story as it unfolds
(Tannen, 1989). Rhythm and poetics play an important part in spoken
interaction through the use of alliteration, carefully coordinated sound
and energy (Tannen, 1989). Coordinated rhythms and harmonies of
the voice and body hold speakers together in mutual attention. In fact
the sociolinguist Ron Scollon (1982) likens verbal conversation to
musical ensemble when he writes (p. 342–43) ‘Ensemble in music
refers to the extent to which the performers have achieved one mind,
or … one body, in the performance of their work. Of the elements
which contribute to the achievement of ensemble, tempo is the guid-
ing element.’ Shared rhythm, capturing the essential pulse that gov-
erns all animal movement, making the future of action predictable, is
perhaps the most fundamental distributed structure for human
communication.
Mari Riess Jones’ ‘Dynamic Attending Theory’ (Jones, 1976; Jones
& Boltz, 1989) provides a plausible explanatory model for this con-
nection between rhythm and narrative in intersubjective experience.
Jones defines attending as a dynamic temporal process that is adjusted
to the temporalities of perceptual phenomena. Her basic thesis is that
the focus of attention is rhythmical and that it initially entrains to a
particular level of periodicity in the perceived world based on the
recurrence of salient events or moments. Subjects become ‘rhythmi-
cally attuned’ to external phenomena. Rhythmic attunement at a ‘ref-
erent’ level enables the subject to shift the focus of attention to other
rhythmic levels that may be hierarchically superior or inferior. Jones
suggests that rhythmic attunement depends on the existence of
MUSICAL NARRATIVE AND MOTIVES 133

internal biologically based oscillators. In a sense dynamic attending


explains why we feel we are moved into shared time when listening to
streams of humanly produced sound like speech or music. There is a
‘quasi-simultaneity’ (Schütz, 1951) between the subject’s stream of
consciousness and the temporal object’s dynamic structure so that the
boundary between subject and object recedes and gives way to an
experience of ‘now’. In this way, the perceiver becomes an intently
involved co-performer.
We suggest that coordinated interaction leads mothers and infants
to imagined worlds through shared time that are not only narrative in
structure but also convey narrative content based on a history of
meaningful communication that holds sedimented motifs and rou-
tines, stimulating anticipatory action and contributing to making the
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intersubjective experience an emotional experience of belonging. We


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turn to this issue in the next section.

III. Narratives of Belonging:


Proto-Habitus as Living Memory-In-Action
We can now define nonverbal interactive narrative along four inter-
connected axes: first, it can be seen as the embodied enactment of
communicative intent; second, it is delineated by a particular sequenc-
ing of framed episodes tied together in energetic contours involving a
‘crisis’ and a ‘resolution’; third, it requires the rhythmic and affective
involvement of co-participants and, finally, it brings about meaningful
intersubjective experiences that ‘thicken’ relationships of togetherness.
We would like to discuss the idea that the temporal framing of moments
and episodes in emotionally shared narrative sequences founds cultural
experience. However, we do not provide any empirical evidence for this
claim in the present paper.
The temporal sequencing that defines narrative fulfils another
important function for both verbal and nonverbal sense making: it
frames experience by segmenting its flow into memorable events.
New events, happening ‘now’, must be embedded in narrative frames
in order to be remembered (Mandler, 1984). There they gain status by
virtue of being connected to other events within known situations.
Human minds are built on memories that grow from the present in
widening circles of involvement with both private and shared con-
sciousness, tracing lines of meaning beyond known places and times
until belief and expectation of events that can occur ‘somewhere
sometime’ transforms experience, assisted by language (Donaldson,
1992). We reconstruct the past to make sense of the present. This is
134 M. GRATIER AND C. TREVARTHEN

perhaps the basis of our feeling of continuity, of existence. ‘Framing


pursues experience into memories’ (Bruner, 1990, p. 56).
We have described how, on one level, mothers and infants commu-
nicate within common time frames, in periods of the near present that
are made special through processes of slowing and speeding up, quali-
ties of silence and salient moments that stand out in time. Vitality con-
tours are involved in the temporal framing of communicative
experience. On another level, narratives of sound and gesture in
mother–infant interaction frame and ‘make special’ present experi-
ences to give them a past existence, making sure they will keep alive
in memory. Narrative activity supports multiple temporalities like
strands that cross and intertwine or separate and vanish. Written and
conversational narratives are full of ‘stories within stories’. Ricoeur
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pointed out that narrative time has a different quality to ‘real’ time, it
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passes at different speeds and it does not drag us inexorably from end
to end. According to Ricoeur (1983) narrative founds the experience
of time itself. It is the present perspective of storytelling, the shared
experience of a ‘here and now’ that enables people to escape mentally
to imagined places in imagined time. And, as Adam Smith
(1777/1982) famously said, narrative articulates memory and imagi-
nation, and he was writing about music as one of the ‘imitative arts’.
Imagined worlds are built out of familiar worlds whose contours can
be anticipated and recalled.
By creating ‘special time’ with its own internal coherence, narra-
tives without words open up horizons of possibility that support the
projections into the future of developing identities based on histories
of everyday encounters. However, the special time of a story
depends on its moving towards an anticipated end. Ending, in fact,
drives the whole narrative process (Ricoeur, 1983). A story becomes
a whole, exists as a separate unity, only once it has ended. Like a
bubble that forms and lifts into the air, the encapsulated temporality
of a story becomes detached from mundane time of continuous expe-
rience (with no end) only once it has ended. Its ontological status
changes once it has achieved its goal and so the imaginative drive of
narrative is also a drive to make memory, to accumulate and organise
past experience in what Margaret Donaldson (1992) calls ‘transcen-
dent consciousness’. Narrative creates memory but it also draws past
experience into the present. It provides memorable information on
which future collaborations and relationships may be built.
The sort of framing and parsing of intention that is provided by nar-
rative organisation in mother–infant interaction, we contend, supports
a developing ‘synbiographical’ self whose identity and memories are
MUSICAL NARRATIVE AND MOTIVES 135

formed in processes of shared and mutual engagement. The young


infant’s ability to remember dynamic ‘musical’ events that involve
motivated action over relatively long periods of time has gained wide
support from experimental research (Courage & Cowan, 2008; Hane
& Rovee-Collier, 1995). Early musicality marks with emotional sig-
natures the identity of persons and ritual events (Trevarthen , 2002).
Everyday social interactions are driven by a desire to perform the
signs of a cultural ‘belonging’. The perfecting of intrinsic skills for
musicality is a way of declaring allegiance and affiliation. A new-
born knows the mother by the tone and inflections of her voice. A
six-month-old who smiles at the recognition of a favourite song or
playful routine displays an awareness of a collective level of know-
ing, of what we call a ‘proto-habitus’ (Gratier, 2007; Gratier &
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Apter-Danon, in press).
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In order to be shareable, to produce a shared dramatic tension, a


narrative must include the reiteration of known forms. These in turn
can accommodate new and unexpected events. Culture is based on
agreed ‘norms’ that connect people through the excitement of shared
anticipation, but it also needs interpretive procedures for making
sense of departures from what is commonly expected. ‘The function
of the story is to find an intentional state that mitigates or at least
makes comprehensible a deviation from a canonical cultural pattern’
(Bruner, 1990, pp. 49–50) (cf. Apter, this volume). Young infants and
their partners learn to ‘mess around’ with expectations together and
this ability attests to the subtle and direct perception infants have of
other people’s intentions (Reddy, 2008). We do not need a ‘Theory of
Mind’ to be aware of intentions, specially when they are woven into
the socio-cultural fabric of meaningful and playful exchange (Zlatev
et al., 2008).
It is the back and forth relating between the past within the present
and its possible futures in the course of social engagement with know-
ing partners that establishes a common ground for cultural experience.
Just as verbal narratives relate ‘now’ past events or happenings, non-
verbal narratives bring the past into the present by recalling known
forms, figures or patterns that must unfold in shared present experi-
ence. Narrative emerges from the past with a drive toward a future
ending, and thus shapes present experience; perhaps it makes time, as
Ricoeur (1983) has suggested. The musical narratives we describe in
interactions between mothers and infants are not just ways of organis-
ing expression - into sequences that draw lines of tension - that sup-
port communication. They have a form of ‘aboutness’ because they
also have content. ‘Phrases’ (Gratier, 2003; Delavenne et al., 2008)
136 M. GRATIER AND C. TREVARTHEN

‘vitality contours’ or ‘protonarrative envelopes’ perhaps constitute the


events that build narrative. As Stern writes, ‘the protonarrative enve-
lope is [...] a time envelope as well as an event envelope’ (Stern, 1995,
p. 91).
In the preceding section we described the way in which rhythmic
involvement was a crucial dimension of narrative but involvement
with talk, text, mouvement and image, which Deborah Tannen (1989)
considers to be the driving force of narrative, is also based on ‘pat-
terns of sense’. If sound patterns are the basis for rhythmic and musi-
cal involvement, sense patterns create involvement through
participation in processes of sense-making. The two together, accord-
ing to Tannen, create emotional involvement. Narrative involvement
between mothers and infants, we contend, is based on intuitive rhyth-
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mic musical forms of engagement as well as on cultural meaningful


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contents of engagement.
Mothers and their preverbal infants rapidly build rapport, a sense of
intimate connectedness and of ‘knowing’ each other. Language is
clearly quite superfluous to this building of rapport and intimacy. In
fact, even between people who can talk to each other, rapport is per-
haps most fundamentally based on nonverbal or ‘unverbaliseable’
communication (cf. Weisbuch & Ambady, this volume). A sense of
rapport often comes from being ‘understood’ without explicitly say-
ing what one means. Tacit understanding between people is related to
their sharing cultural knowledge and habits of practice (Condon,
1982; Gumperz, 1982) and it calls forth mutual participation in sense
making (Tannen, 1989). What mother and infant share in communica-
tion is unsayable, yet in the course of their everyday interactions they
are narrating their rapport, their connectedness and togetherness in
time; in short, their mutual sense of ‘belonging’.
We propose that in the first six months of an infant’s life a
‘proto-habitus’, which is both derived from and precedes what
Bourdieu (1972; 1990) has called ‘habitus’, plays a crucial role in
holding together narratives of involvement with close partners. We
focus here only on certain features of ‘habitus’ as it is defined and ana-
lysed by Pierre Bourdieu (1972; 1990). Habitus comprises organised
sets of dispositions that generate and regulate social practice. These
dispositions that regulate or ‘spontaneously and collectively
ochestrate’ social life are historically rooted and they also in turn
actively produce and shape newer dispositions. (It is important to note
that Bourdieu rejects structuralist positions when he describes habitus
as ‘structuring structured structures’.) A central feature of ‘habitus’ is
that it is body-based, it is considered as a ‘second nature’ or embodied
MUSICAL NARRATIVE AND MOTIVES 137

social learning — a history that is forgotten and transformed into


natural state. Habitus can be seen, for our purposes, as a nonverbally
grounded embodied cultural knowing that is expressed in practice by
people connected through time within real life communities.
While habitus concerns communities of people living together and
exists both collectively and individually, proto-habitus concerns
micro-cultural units made of a few specific partners. It is only indi-
rectly related to the community of like-minded — and like-bodied —
others that surrounds the intimate circle of interaction through the
‘habitus’ of parents and close kin. For example, the particular
cadences of mother’s speech that the infant becomes familiar with
starting in utero are the result of the mother’s social practice of
speaking a certain language in a certain way. Proto-habitus exists only in
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interactive practice and in the intersubjective time of musical narrative


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involvement that frames the interactional exchanges themselves.


Proto-habitus represents the locally meaningful and situationally
specific particulars of the developing relationships the infant enter-
tains. Later, during more cooperative games in secondary intersubjec-
tivity (Trevarthen and Hubley, 1978; Hubley and Trevarthen, 1979),
infants acquire the so-called socio-intentional abilities such as ‘joint
attention’ and ‘pointing’ that very clearly pave the road to language —
because they mark or draw attention to critical moments and events in
a shared narration — and that therefore have been considered to be the
building blocks of a revolutionary ‘cultural learning’ (Tomasello et
al., 1993).
Before they are interested, or have the ‘confidence’, to really coop-
erate in some task intended by another, infants ‘discover’ with great
excitement and pride that some of the particulars that formed the
‘proto-habitus’ of their intimate relationships can in fact be shared
with members of their community at large and attract their pleasure
and admiration. Thus from around 6 months parents play and sing
more vigorously the canonical songs, rhymes and games they have
learned from their own parents (Eckerdal & Merker, in press), and
infants learn these ‘rituals’ eagerly, becoming proud of their ‘identity’
as performers (Trevarthen, 2002). But the ‘grounding signs of culture’
(Cowley et al., 2004) based on a semiosis of organised embodied
‘feeling forms’ (Trevarthen, 1987; 1992; 1994) are, we believe, to be
found in the earliest interactions of coordinated motive states between
mother and baby.
Finally, we wish the make clear an important connection between
proto-habitus, emotion and culture by suggesting that the recognition
and physical anticipation of the projected styles and routines the
138 M. GRATIER AND C. TREVARTHEN

infant has come to know induce strong emotions of belonging, pride


and confidence. Proto-habitus may also provide an ‘interpretive con-
text’ for mother–infant narratives within the framework of a ‘shared
micro-culture’. Events in verbal stories gain meaning by being
embedded in ‘interpretive contexts’ based on past experience so that
in a bakhtinian sense every story is linked to all the other stories
(Bakhtin, 1986). Bruner (1990), too, is committed to the idea that nar-
ratives derive meaning from being embedded in cultures of shared
representation and expectation. And that by virtue of this, narratives
also make culture and identity. Most narratives are about life experi-
ence and how people relate to each other, purposefully and with feel-
ing. We suggest that the first narratives, the nonverbal musical stories
mothers and babies spin together, are about finding oneself in the
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other, about the special ways in which understanding the other means
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losing oneself or about the reciprocal attribution of intentionality and


agency (Bruner & Feldman, 1993). Katherine Nelson’s (1989)
famous work on the bed-time narrative accounts that toddlers make to
themselves about the day’s events sheds light on the importance of life
experience for shaping narrative. Narratives of self can also be based
on telling stories without words, which, according to Damasio (1999),
involves the coordination of nonverbal images produced by the brain.
Sacks (2007) would identify this process of creating meaning in the
brain with music itself.
Mother–infant interaction is narrative in form and content and this
makes it meaningful. And we accept, with Mark Johnson (2007,
p. 260), that ‘the mechanisms of human meaning extend far beyond
the capacity for language’. The ‘felt immediacy’ (Bråten, 1998) of the
musical phrases of a mother’s Infant Directed Speech draws the infant
into a fictionalized space where known shapes of time are recounted
and conjure up emotions of belonging. Meaning grows out of the
experienced flow of shared embodied narratives.

IV. Ways of Telling: How a Mother and Infant


Orchestrate a ‘Dénouement’ In Vocal Exchange
We now present some examples of narrative organisation in
mother–infant vocal interaction. The analyses that follow are based on
a corpus of video and audio recordings of mothers and two- to
three-month-old infants interacting in their home environments.
Mothers were asked to communicate with their babies the way they
normally do using the disposition they find most comfortable. Moth-
ers were also encouraged to sing rhymes, action songs or lullabies.
MUSICAL NARRATIVE AND MOTIVES 139

Spectrograms, pitch plots and intensity curves were obtained for the
sequences analyzed using the acoustic analysis software Praat, ver-
sion 4.4.17 (Boersma & Weeninck, 2002). Spectrograms provide real
time information about fundamental frequency, amplitude and har-
monics in the form of frequency bands (formants) corresponding to a
resonnance in the vocal tract. The darker formant bands have higher
energy. A ‘pitch plot’ derived from the fundamental frequency (mea-
sured in Hertz) represents the perceived ‘height’ of sound contoured
over time, i.e., it gives us a reading of the variation of melody in real
time. Intensity curves plot changes in amplitude (measured in deci-
bels) over time. The plots are presented with annotations that illustrate
the analysis techniques we use to study mother–infant vocal
interaction.
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Figure 1

The first example (Figure 1) reveals the rhythmic pulse in a short


segment of interaction between a Parisian mother and her
140 M. GRATIER AND C. TREVARTHEN

2-month-old son. It shows how the mother establishes a regular pulse,


through the timing of her utterances, and how it supports a rhythmic
involvement between her and her baby. Mother and infant appear to be
‘together in time’ or, as jazz musicians say, sharing ‘good time’
(Monson, 1996). A large-scale study of the vocal interaction between
60 mothers and their young infants has shown that pulse is generally
flexible, with a periodicity around 900 milliseconds on average with a
standard deviation of 150 milliseconds (Gratier, 2001; 2003). This
corresponds with the lower portion of the range of a metronome —
from andante to adagio. Interacting partners come in around the beat,
sometimes just before and sometimes just after. We have called this
the ‘expressive timing’ of mother–infant interaction (Gratier, 2003).
Fluctuations of pulse probably play a key role in maintaining involve-
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ment through stimulating variations of anticipatory attention. The


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pulse durations for the example shown in Figure 1. are variable and
we may note what looks like ‘phrase final lengthening’ in the 5th and
the 11th pulses.

Figure 2
MUSICAL NARRATIVE AND MOTIVES 141

The second example (Figure 2) shows a 43 second narrative epi-


sode of lively vocal interaction between the same Parisian mother and
her 2-month-old son. The sequences of the narrative episode have
been highlighted on a pitch plot showing that mother and infant
explore pitch space around a baseline middle C. A more detailed view
is given of what we call the narrative ‘crisis’. An intensity curve
shows the general trajectory of energy or intensity over time, culmi-
nating at the point of crisis and gradually returning to its initial level.
Table 1 provides a more detailed analysis of the phrases that make up
the narrative sequences visible on the pitch plots in Figure 2. Note that
the verbalizations of the mother in this example suggest that she
thinks of her infant as capable of ‘telling her about something’. And
she seems to find it interesting. Phrases are defined as bouts of vocal-
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ization followed by a pause. In this example, phrases last between


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1200 and 5300 milliseconds. Again, this example corroborates our


findings based on larger samples of recorded interactions (Delavenne
et al., 2008; Gratier, 2001; 2003). It is interesting to note that the
phrases that end the sequences making up the narrative episode are
generally longer than the others — except for the ‘crisis’ phrase which
is the second longest in the entire episode.

Table 1 [inf. voc. = infant vocalization]


Phrase Transcription Sequence Length of
utterance + pause
1 Est-ce que t’as envie de parler Orientation 1900 ms
à maman?
Do you want to speak with
mummy ?
2 Hein Rïann Orientation 1800 ms
Huh Raïnn
3 Qu’est ce tu racontes? Orientation 1200 ms
What do you have to tell ?
4 Qu’est ce tu racontes à Orientation 5300 ms
maman? [inf. voc.] oh ben oui
[inf. voc.] oh
What do you have to tell
mummy? [inf. voc.] oh well
yes [inf. voc.] oh
142 M. GRATIER AND C. TREVARTHEN

Phrase Transcription Sequence Length of


utterance + pause
5 Tout ça tu racontes? [inf. voc.] Chorus 1 1700 ms
You have all of that to tell ?
[inf. voc.]
6 Ah oui [overlapping inf. voc.] Chorus 1 2600 ms
oh oui [inf. voc.]
Ah yes [overlapping inf. voc.]
oh yes [inf. voc.]
7 [inf. voc.] oh ben oui t’avais Chorus 1 2800 ms
envie de parler ce matin
[inf. voc.] oh well yes you
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wanted to talk this morning


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8 [inf. vocs] oh [inf. voc.] Chorus 1 3500 ms


9 Oh ben dis donc [inf. voc.] Chorus 2 3100 ms
Oh is that so [inf. voc.]
10 [inf. voc.] oh [inf. voc.] Chorus 2 4900 ms
[overlapping vocs] oh là c’est CRISIS
fort!
[inf. voc.] of [inf. voc.]
[overlapping vocs] Wow that’s
powerful/that’s great!
11 Ah [inf. voc.] ah oui Chorus 2 2400 ms
[overlapping inf. voc.] RESOLUTION
Ah [inf. voc.] ah yes
[overlapping inf. voc.]
12 Eh oui [inf. voc.] Chorus 2 3500 ms
Well yes [inf. voc.] RESOLUTION
13 Oh ben dis donc Coda 1300 ms
Oh well really
14 C’est parce que t’avais bien Coda 2200 ms
dormi que tu voulais me
raconter [overlapping inf.
voc.]?
It’s because you slept well that
you wanted to tell me
[overlapping inf. voc.] ?
15 Oh Coda 1500 ms
16 Ben dis donc (stretched) Coda 3200 ms
Well really (stretched)
MUSICAL NARRATIVE AND MOTIVES 143

There is today growing evidence that the ways in which young infants
and mothers engage with each other, their forms of interacting, are, or
become, to some extent, culture-specific (Cowley et al., 2004;
Gratier, 2001; 2003; Keller, 2003; Stork, 1986; Trevarthen, 1988). If
proto-habitus provides a developing repertoire of embodied habits,
motifs, and recursive formula, rooted in the cultural styles a mother
brings with her from her own community, how does it influence the
narrative musicality of mother–infant interaction? Can proto-habitus
be described and analysed in the visible traces of the on-going
intersubjective encounters that ‘thicken’ relationships?
Comparative research has highlighted unique features of mother–
infant interaction in diverse communities and has questioned some of
the assumptions underlying research on early interaction carried out
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in European and North American contexts. In many parts of the world


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face-to-face interaction is much less frequent or even absent, at least


in contexts observed by researchers. Communication may take place
predominantly through tactile and kinesic modes rather than through
visual, vocal and gestural ones and mothers are not necessarily
infants’ primary interactive partners (Field et al., 1981; Hewlett et al.,
1998; Konner, 1976; LeVine and LeVine, 1966; Levine et al., 1994;
Stork, 1986; Trevarthen, 1988; Tronick et al., 1989). Despite the
attention drawn to important differences in the overall interactive
style of mothers and infants around the world, communicative
exchange based on coordinated timing appears to be pervasive, and to
follow intuitively known principles.
Differences in interaction style have been found in a comparative
study of face-to-face interaction between mothers and very young
infants in Scotland and Nigeria, where Nigerian mothers were found
to be more coercive, directive, boisterous and physical with their
infants whereas Scottish mothers were more inclined to let their
infants express themselves spontaneously, used more talk and less
touching (Trevarthen, 1988). A similar study of interaction style dif-
ferences between Indian, French and North American mothers’ vocal
interactions with 2- to 5-month olds showed that the turn-taking
patterns were most different for Indian dyads as compared with
French and North American dyads (Gratier, 1999; 2001; 2003).
More specifically Indian mothers and infants vocalised together
(rather than in clear alternation) more than the other two groups,
and the pauses between their turns were shorter than those in the
two other groups. Indian mothers also verbalized less, producing
more modulated vocal sounds. In a study of mother–infant interac-
tio n at 1 4 w e e k s in S o u th - A f r ic a ( a mo n g is iZu lu an d
144 M. GRATIER AND C. TREVARTHEN

English-speaking dyads), Cowley et al. (2004) go so far as to


describe a precocious body-based semiotic activity based on iconic
signs acquiring indexical functions in the course of on-going interac-
tion. A controlled comparison of mother– infant interaction among
older infants in Guatemala and the US examining the ways in which
mothers and babies organize their behaviour during the joint explora-
tion of a novel object showed that while North American mothers used
talk in their interactions, Guatemalan mothers relied more on non-ver-
bal communication (Rogoff & Mosier, 1993).
There can be conspicuous differences of timing and expression in
the ways mothers in different cultures share emotions and vitality in
their dialogues. For example, Powers has found that vowels in the
speech of Japanese mothers to their four-month-olds has a wider
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range of durations and pitch levels than the speech of Scottish mothers
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to their young infants, and the infants vocalised differently too, like
their mothers. The differences might be related to the contrasting
moral attitudes or beliefs, and the differences in speech prosody, in
these two cultures. They appear to be influenced by the importance
given in traditional Japanese society to respect for the emotions of
other persons, and to concepts of how infants feel and how they
should be addressed (Powers and Trevarthen, in press).
These types of large-scale cross-cultural studies address the issue
of the progressive developement of shared cultural styles in interac-
tion. How does a very young infant come to anticipate the particular
prosodic signature in the mother’s speech that signals the end of a nar-
rative episode or a new beginning? We need to trace the trajectories of
these local habits of communication that foster intimacy, rapport and
shared understanding. How does an infant learn to recognise patterns of
prosody, dynamics and rhythm, and more importantly, how does the infant
indicate (iconically and indexically) his or her recognition of them?
We believe the kind of rhythmic involvement and narrative musi-
cality, made visible in our acoustic analysis mother–infant vocal inter-
action, inevitably generate cultural grooves, akin to the licks, riffs and
gimmicks that improvising musicians call on in their ‘musical conver-
sations’ (Gratier, 2008) and that these in turn support the emotions of
belonging that enable mothers and babies to be in synch and to share
in imagined times and spaces.
MUSICAL NARRATIVE AND MOTIVES 145

V. Story-telling and Story-Listening in Action-Songs and


Musical Games
The building up of local histories of relating between mothers and
infants — as well as fathers and other family members — are also sup-
ported by the rich musical cultures of baby songs that infants inspire
their parents to reproduce. Parents often feel compelled to sing for
their infants (Trehub & Trainor, 1998) regardless of whether they
think they can sing or not. And most of the time the songs they sing
and the games they play are taken from the ancient histories of their
own cultural traditions (Custodero and Johnson-Green, 2003; Merker,
2005), drawing on personal memory, the recollections of grandpar-
ents, or on examples from books or the internet. North-American
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parents sing to their babies several times a day, in playful interaction


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and during daily activities such as bathing, feeding and putting to


sleep (Trehub et al., 1997).
This musical inheritance is well adapted to the needs and appetites
of infants. Infants appear to prefer infant-directed song to
infant-directed speech (Trehub & Nataka, 2002). Baby songs,
action-games and lullabies around the world share remarkable rhyth-
mic and structural similarities (Trevarthen, 2002; Unyk et al., 1992).
They present simple melodic contours, repeated motifs and a rela-
tively narrow pitch range (Trehub & Trainor, 1998). Baby songs and
even spontaneous nonsense chants are typically composed of groups
of verses or stanzas each lasting between 15 and 30 seconds. They are
inherently narrative in their form, comprising sequences that regulate
the progression of energy towards a joyful climax and down again
(Trevarthen, 1999). Lines in the verses of most baby songs last around
3 seconds on average. This is also the mean duration of a ‘phrase’ in
spontaneous interaction which has been shown to correspond to the
average length of musical phrases, lines of poetry and conversational
stretches of talk and to the subjective experience of a ‘present moment’
(Fraisse, 1978; Gratier, 2001; Trevarthen, 1999). And adults’ singing
style when they sing for infants, regardless of the genre of the song
itself, is characterized by slower tempo, higher pitch and marked inten-
sification (Trainor, 1996; Trehub et al., 1997). In our corpus of recordings
we have many examples of mothers singing energetic popular tunes to
their infants that they have tailored to their infants’ needs so that their
musical features resemble those of traditional baby songs.
Mothers often make rhythmic displays of hand movements while
they sing to the baby. Infants soon partake in these multi-modal musi-
cal activities with rhythmic bouncing of their own body, movements
146 M. GRATIER AND C. TREVARTHEN

of the arms and hands and a variety of well-timed vocal productions


(Mazakopaki and Kugiumutzakis, in press). In these situations the
infant can be considered as an, albeit novice, co-performer rather than
as an audience (Eckerdal & Merker, in press). In the case of
action-songs and musical rhymes, parents do not so much sing for the
infant as they sing with the infant and the singing styles they adopt are
geared towards infant participation. In this sense the infant’s status as
co-performer does not depend on any actual, physical contribution to
the song. The ritualised performances infants and their loved ones
regularly partake in must contribute to shaping the narrative mind
with a culturally grounded sense of self (Trevarthen, 2002).
An example of a 3-month-old infant participating in the musical
narrative of a well known traditional French baby song sung by his
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mother is presented in Figures 3 and 4. ‘Les marionnettes’ is organised


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in multiple repeating 4 line stanzas where rhythmically rotating hand


gestures accompany the musical pulse. We have analysed a stretch of
mother–infant engagment in which the mother repeats the same two
stanzas of ‘Les Marionnettes’ twice with a short segment of talk
between them. The entire sequence in presented as a pitch plot at the
top of both figures. Spectrograms, pitch plots and intensity curves are
presented for each of the two-stanza songs. The lines and stanzas and
their durations in each version of the song are presented in table 2. The
lines range from 2400 to 3850 miliseconds, a range that matches natu-
ral phrase length in mother–infant vocal interaction. The first set of
two stanzas lasts 22.2 seconds and the second set lasts 23.65 seconds
suggesting there is a slowing down at the end of the cycle. The infant
intervenes vocally in each of the 4 stanzas, towards the beginning of
each stanza in the first version and towards the end of each stanza in
the second version, each time at a musically salient moment
corresponding to a phrase boundary. And in both versions the
infant’s involvement around the mid-point of the song sequence
brings about an intensity peak that can be considered as the focal
point of a narrative episode.
The little boy in our example is already well versed. He knows what
to expect when his mother sings this particular song and he knows
what she expects of him. This experience of singing a well-known
song together is constitutive of the infant’s proto-habitus. And
because the mother is connected through this song and others, through
her ways of talking and moving, to the cultural habitus of her commu-
nity (or communities — for infants can handle plurality), the infant
will come to anticipate and participate in interactions with a wider and
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Figure 3
MUSICAL NARRATIVE AND MOTIVES
147
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148

Figure 4
M. GRATIER AND C. TREVARTHEN
MUSICAL NARRATIVE AND MOTIVES 149

wider array of partners who share the same tacit, embodied, much
larger and much older culture.

Table 2 [* = Infant vocalises]


Stanza 1 Line length Line length
Song 1 Song 2
1 Ainsi font font font 2500 ms 2600 ms
That’s how they go, go, go
2 Les petites marionnettes 2500 ms* 2600 ms
The little puppets
3 Ainsi font font font 2500 ms 2600 ms
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That’s how they go, go, go


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4 Trois p’tits tours et puis s’en vont 3000 ms 3850 ms*


Three little twirls and then they’re
gone

Stanza 2
1 Mais elles reviendront 2800 ms* 2900 ms
But they will come back
2 Les petites marionnettes 2400 ms 2600 ms
The little puppets
3 Mais elles reviendront 2900 ms 2800 ms
But they will come back
4 Quand les enfants dormiront 3600 ms 3700 ms*
When the children are asleep

Conclusion: On the Human Readiness for Narratives of


Relating, and for Making Culture Meaningful
By carefully watching and analysing the intimate encounters of moth-
ers and infants, and remembering the ability of young children to find
companionship before they speak in play and at work with an increas-
ing circle of companions, we have learned to accept a paradox. It
appears that the need to tell and accept the story of culture, the history
of meanings we must learn, is innate. Educational reformers, like the
17th-century teacher Comenius (2003), are right — one has to accept
150 M. GRATIER AND C. TREVARTHEN

the child as a ‘reasonable person’, willing to be a partner in the making


and remembering of meaning. Babies are born to find meaning in
intent participation with the imaginings and ambitions of older minds.
They have a musical sense of time, and a language of emotions that
matches that of the wisest adult, including sensitive feelings about the
contingent appropriateness of other persons’ behaviours. And they
soon build a ‘personal narrative history’ that connects moments of the
present to an imagined future as well as a remembered past.
With this new idea of the human mind as motivated for the ‘poetry’
or creative stories of culture (Trevarthen, 2004a), we see evidence that
preparations are made for an intermental life in prenatal growth of
organs for regulating agency and experience, and for making the regu-
lations public or intersubjective. A human foetus, months before birth,
For personal use only -- not for reproduction

has a body, sensory and motor organs, and a brain already adapted in
Copyright (c) Imprint Academic 2013

intricate ways to share acting and experiencing — with hearing for the
rhythms and tones of human voice, with eyes that signal looking for
others to see, with more muscles than any other creature for expres-
sions of the face that tell of appetites and aversions of great sublety,
with two hands that are ready to indicate how the material world may
be used and with a delicately hirsute skin made to respond emotion-
ally to the dynamics of human touch (Trevarthen, 2001b; 2004b).
Infants start life looking for ways to make conversation by expressing
what they want and how they feel, and soon they are trying to create
compositions, to share the plot of artful games and make them into
legends.
A new science of human sympathy is beginning to give a
neurobiological account of the mimetic abilities that intrigued Aris-
totle and the moral sentiments described so richly by Adam Smith.
One remarkable study using electroencephalography has proved that
the cerebral hemispheres of an 8-week-old baby already possess
organs for the appreciation of a known person’s face, for accepting the
sound of their speech and for being in readiness for expressing a reply
with face and voice (Tzourio-Mazoyer et al., 2002). And we begin to
learn that the brain is a time machine, that it imagines whole plans for
moving in ways the phenomenologists appreciated, and that it shares
these with sympathy of emotions (Gallese, 2005; Panksepp, 2005). No
longer do we have to imagine the cerebral circuits as some great calcu-
lator or tape machine competent only to process sensory information
and learn new algorithms for driving motor action in more intelligent
ways. The neurobiology of sympathy appears to be the primay regula-
tor of development for moving purposes and conscious appraisal of the
likely consequences of action.
MUSICAL NARRATIVE AND MOTIVES 151

We have reviewed evidence that the making of meaning in culture


depends on an innate drive for narrative that anticipates and regulates
the drama of interpersonal engagements and brings a foretaste of how
to come to a conclusion that will lead to new beginnings. We have
compared the inventions of jazz with the gently nuanced exchanges of
a mother with a newborn. We have found that writing the story of life
needs the sense of belonging to a community and that this is vital for
well being. We have identified the motives and emotions for culture in
narratives of mother–infant vocal interaction.

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