Sapientia Lecture Series

Dartmouth Events

Sapientia Lecture Series

Anna Christina Soy Ribeiro (Texas Tech). "The Musical Protolanguage Hypothesis and the Origins of Poetry." Free and open to all. Reception follows.

Friday, November 10, 2017
103 Thornton Hall
Intended Audience(s): Public
Categories: Lectures & Seminars

Abstract: An intentional-historical formalist definition of poetry such as the one offered in Ribeiro (2007) inevitably raises the question of how poetry first emerged, and why. On this view, repetitive linguistic patterning is seen as a historically central feature of poems, and one that has both an aesthetic and a cognitive dimension (e.g. in being pleasing to the ear and easier to remember). Combining the Darwinian idea of a musical protolanguage with analyses of ‘babytalk’, I suggest that this central feature of poetic practices first emerged as a vestige of our prosodic proto-speech and of our earliest form of communication with our caregivers. Conversely, I suggest that the existence and universality of ‘babytalk’, together with the universality and antiquity of poetic practices, argue in favor of the musical protolanguage hypothesis over its competitors, lexical and gestural protolanguage. One consequence of this proposal is a reversal of how we understand poetic repetition: rather than being justified in terms of the mnemonic needs of oral cultures, it is now understood as an aesthetically pleasing exploitation of features already found in speech. Further, on the basis of the recently proposed ‘serial founder effect’ in the phonemic diversity of languages, I offer the empirical prediction that poetic form will become more ‘musical’ the fewer phonemes a language has, to compensate for phonemic loss. The late advent of rhyme is offered as evidence of this possibility.

Educated at the Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven, Belgium, Hunter College, and the University of Maryland, where she earned her Ph.D., Anna Christina Soy Ribeiro is associate professor of philosophy at Texas Tech University. She specialized in aesthetics and the philosophy of art, and is on the Board of Trustees of the American Society for Aesthetics. Her main research project currently is a monograph entitled Beautiful Speech: The Nature, Origins, and Powers of Poetry (forthcoming from Oxford University Press), where she offers a "comprehensive philosophical theory of poetry, drawing on cognitive and evolutionary psychology, pragmatics and metrical phonology in linguistics, and work in disciplines such as classics, anthropology and archaeology on oral literary traditions ancient and contemporary." In 2012, Texas Tech selected her as one of its "Integrated Scholars," for excellence in teaching, research, and service, and you can read and watch her interview here.

The Sapientia Lecture Series is funded by The Mark J. Byrne 1985 Fund in Philosophy.

For more information, contact:
Marcia Welsh
(603) 646-3738

Events are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted.