The Biological Basis Of Universal Grammar--Maiya Sershen SpecGram Vol CXLIX, No 2 Contents Cultural Grammaticalization--Sam Shovel

The Development of the Brain and Its Implication for Language, Music and Pest Control


The Pied Piper Revisited

Sachsen von Lichtgeschwindigkeit, Doctor of Osteopathy
(as told to A. Katz)

Most students of the problem are agreed that there is something special about human language. (Geschwind 1964.155). 1 But I, having considered the matter long and hard, have come to the conclusion that human language isn't special at all. It is commonplace, filthy, and leads to vermin-infested living conditions; and should its spread not be checked in time, then I cannot be held responsible for the consequences!

Having gotten that preliminary bit of misconception out of the way, we may proceed to the heart of the matter. The discovery of language led indirectly to agriculture; pooling of resources, capitalism, fascism and communism; big over-crowded cities, mass transit and the bubonic plague; thought not necessarily in that order. And it was language also that transformed cute little field mice into giant rats, infesting our tenements, looking at us with those beady eyes, the twitching noses, the long, slithering tails, who swarm through our sewers and kept us company both day and night, who could not be got rid of, who were always there, lurking in the dark, crawling over our bodies at night, gnawing on the noses of sleeping children, practicing usury and preying on the virtue of sweet, innocent German maidens ...

But I digress. In short, language led to civilization, and civilization brought us vermin. Vermin that had to be got rid of, removed, exterminated, at any cost. But how?

Some said that we should fight fire with fire and that the consequences of language could be dealt with by language alone. But there are reasons why this could never work. Rats, you see, are not impressed by words. You can shout at them, cajole them, threaten, and the impudent creatures will turn up their noses and never give it a second thought. I know. I've tried.

No. Rats will not heed reason, will turn a deaf ear to language, and can never be moved by poetry, but they will listen to MUSIC!

Here is where my vast medical training comes in handy. For there is a part of the brain, shared by human and rat alike, a portion of the brain's anatomy, lying along the surface of the temporal lobes, a group of subtle little structures known as the limbic system. Some parts of the limbic system control motor response, instinctive reactions to anger, fear, and lowly urges too despicable to mention. Others deal with sensory responses, subjective feelings, taste, smell, thirst, hunger, longing, and musical enjoyment ... All the actions and reactions necessary for the organism to survive. This is what we have in common with the rat. And it is to this common heritage, to this essential center of the brain that the Rattenfänger von Hemeln appealed. (Krogmann 1934.26-27). The following is an account first printed in 1570:

Ein Stad liegt in West Sachsen Land
An der Weser Hammeln genant
Daselbst kont man die grossen Ratzen
Weder durch Gifft oder durch Katzen
Vertreiben darumb ward bedacht
Wie ein Kunst wurd zu weg gebracht
Dadurch man sie alle kont Teuffen
In dem Weserstrom gar erseuffen.
Bis sich auch fand ein Wundermann
Mit bunten Kleidern angethan
Der Pfiff die Meuss zusammen all
Erseuft sie im Strom auf einmahl.

The factual nature of this account can scarcely be doubted, as there are numerous versions of the event minutely describing the proceedings in various languages, including Latin, French and English. And in each version, it is found that the power of the piper over the limbic system extends to children, as well as mice. (Krogmann 1934.16).

Centum ter denos: hac Magus ab vrbe puellos
Duxerat ante Annos condita porta fuit.
Vrbs Hameloa tuos gemitu gemembunda requiris
Abduxit quondam quos lacrymosa dies.

How did this magic work? It was no magic at all, as any student of the human brain could plainly tell you. The sections of the limbic system that control musical enjoyment are directly linked with those that trigger the motor response of following a pied piper. No sooner is the musical sensation experienced than the subject immediately enters into the piper-following behavior. QED.

When sufficient funding is available, I intend to conduct detailed research on the type of melodies likely to lead to the extermination of rats, mice, the homeless, red army ants, MCI representatives, the poor, the lonely, tsitsi flies, termites, teeming masses longing to be free, and other undesirables. Related topics include spectral analysis of hues appropriate for the piper's outfit.

In short, music may very well solve all the world's problems, as many of us have suspected all along. The final solution is at hand.


1. I would not have personally suspected that most students of the problem are agreed that there is something special about human language, had I not read Geschwind's article; I quote: "Most students of the problem are agreed that there is something special about human language." (1964.155).


Geschwind, Normal. 1964. The development of the brain and the evolution of language. Monograph Series on Language and Linguistics, No. 17. Georgetown University Institute.

Krogmann, Willy. Der Rattenfänger von Hameln. 1934. Germanische Studien. Berlin

The Biological Basis Of Universal Grammar--Maiya Sershen
Cultural Grammaticalization--Sam Shovel
SpecGram Vol CXLIX, No 2 Contents