November 9 – Singing In The Brain

Today’s factismal: In 1992, Thomas School yodeled 22 tones in one second, setting a new world’s record.

Let’s suppose that it is 1500 and you live on an Alpine meadow where you herd your goats, and that your best friend lives on an Alpine meadow across the valley where he herds his goats. Now let’s suppose that you just thought of the world’s funniest joke and want to tell it to him. You could pull out your cell phone, except that they haven’t been invented yet. You could walk over to tell it to him, but it is an all day journey down into the valley and back up. You could try to tell it to him by semaphore except he may not see you waving your arms. Or you could sing it to him.

Believe it or not, that’s exactly what the people in the Alps do. Over the years, they have developed a way to call across the mountains by singing. And they aren’t alone; yodeling is used by tribes in Africa, groups in Pakistan, and even field hands in America. By using a series of musical tones to carry information, the goatherds and other folks were able to send the information clearly and easily. Where words would blur and become confused by echoes, musical tones remain clear and easy to understand.

Today, the goatherds have cellular phones and yodeling is mostly found on country and western albums. But it still remains as a reminder of what life was like back when the only way to talk to a friend was to sing.

If you’d like to help anthropologists as they learn more about the ways we communicate, then head on over to the Open Anthropology Project:

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