Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star in Japanese and in English: The influence of mother tongue on young children's musical behavior

Nozomi Azechi

University of London, UK

The aim of this study is to discover the relationship between the mother tongue and young children’s musical behavior, especially as reflected in their rhythmic sense within their singing. The available research literature indicates that music and language are often closely linked, at least in young children’s musical development during the first years of life (Papousek, 1996; Malloch, 1999; Welch, 2005). Children aged between three to five years are often observed singing and playing with words in music-like formula (Mang, 2003). The boundary between singing and speaking is often ambiguous. It is hypothesized, therefore, that the development of young children’s rhythm in singing might be in some form of symbiotic relationship to their speech rhythm. As their babbling gradually forms into specific rhythms of their mother tongue, their singing rhythmic form also becomes more closely associated with their cultures’ musical rhythm.

In the current study, nPVI (normalized Pairwise Variability Index - Grabe & Low, 2002) values were generated from rhythmic analyses of 3-6 year-old Japanese and English children’s singing of “Twinkle, Twinkle” - a nursery song that exists in both cultures. Unlikely other researches, which have also applied nPVI to music and language (e.g., Patel, 2003; Sadakata et al, in press), in the current study the actual length of IOI [Inter Onset Interval] was used for the analyses. Japanese children aged 3yo to 6yo were asked to sing the song in Japanese, which has exactly the same rhythm as the English version in a written music score. This recording session was undertaken in Japan, 2004. English children of the same age group were asked to sing the same song in English. The recording was done in London, 2004 and 2005.

Preliminary analyses indicates that there is a difference between Japanese and English groups at age 4+, (mean nPVI value = 23.64 vs. 26.45), but also that the nPVI value of 3yo singers suggests no difference between two language groups (mean nPVI value = 25.45 vs. 25.58). This may be conjectured as initial evidence that there is a tendency for cultural/language effects to become more evident as the children grow up. Just as young children’s babbling and early words become clear speaking, so rhythm in singing begins to reflect the mother-tongue language rhythm.