Our research provides compelling evidence for the assumption that language development in human infants starts with (cry) melody and that melody works as a scaffolding during all stages of early vocal development. The production of speech-like sounds produced by the infant during later pre-speech phases that are more commonly regarded as language-relevant, for example, canonical babbling, is inevitably based on a preceding systematic melody development (outlined in more detail in Wermke & Mende, 2011).

The developmental steps identified in our longitudinal studies lend support to the hypothesis that for the production of cries, early comfort vocalizations, speech-like babbling, and of first words, not only are the same “architectural principles” at work but that the prosodic constituents (melodic building blocks) for the later spoken language are also developed. Our data reveal a clear coherence and a strong developmental continuity from first crying via cooing and babbling toward speech and first language competence.

The dense functional coupling of auditory and vocal systems allows the neonate to actively produce and rehearse melodic-rhythmic elements in his or her own crying from the moment of birth. The early rehearsal of melodic and rhythmic elements appears to be essential for the undisturbed process of language acquisition in the first year of life.

Pre-Speech Diagnostics in the ZVES derives from this concept.