‘Go to Sleep, My Child’ With Lullabies from Around the World

Rising Voices note: The following post originally written by Yásnaya Aguilar for Este Páis and is republished with permission. Other posts about lullabies on Global Voices can be found here and here.

In some Mixe communities of the Mexican state of Oaxaca, it is believed that newborns arrive with good fortune linguistically: they understand a universal language later refined with the words of adults until they are able to attain a pristine diamond: the Ayuujk language. In our dreams, we can sometimes recall that universal language with which we were born and it is the same we use when we begin to lose our ability to reason or when death approaches. The words of the universal language once again connect us with the world of the dead, which is perhaps similar to the world of the not yet born or to the not conceived.

Every culture has distinct concepts of what constitutes the acquisition of languages and from a scientific point of view there are heated debates among the different approaches to this phenomenon.

Lulllaby in the Otomí language from the Oto-Manguean family:

The interaction between the world's languages and babies begins before birth, as babies can hear the language spoken by the mother and in this sense, even though “mother language” is not synonymous with the “language of the mother,” there is a first linguistic relationship between mother and child.

It is not surprising that words become spells to help stop the crying, help the child go to sleep, or express encouragement or hope. Transmitted mainly through an oral tradition, lullabies reflect the musical and lyrical cultural approaches to what we call childhood. Each culture has different lullabies for different purposes: a lullaby in the Seri language (the video at the top of this post) spoken by Seri people on the coast of SonoraMexico, for example, is not sung in order to induce sleep or stop crying, but instead “to instill the fighting spirit in girls, so that when they grow they know how to confront problems in this world,” as the lyrics state.

Lullaby in the Náhuatl language:

A lullaby is an oral text composed especially so that humans can relate to one another linguistically to receive the linguistic heritage of the culture in which the child is born. Lullabies are the building blocks of the language offered to children learning to live in the world. The lullaby lyrics can be directed to babies or may be linguistic formulas to attract attributes or desirable destinations for newborns.

Lullaby in the Toba language:

In 2010, a couple embarked on a project called “La Furgonana,” where they toured Latin America in a van documenting the status of the rights of children and documenting lullabies from the different places they visited, including in languages other than Spanish.

Lullabies can become a path by which babies are exposed to the diversity of languages in the world. The videos in this post are a brief selection of lullabies in different languages that help babies go to sleep or install courage because sleep and bravery know no linguistic boundaries.

Other lullabies found online include in the English, Mixteco, Lakota, and Judaeo-Spanish (Ladino) languages.

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