I heard this fascinating programme on BBC Radio 4 this week. It's on Listen Again for just a few days so I'm pasting all the info here for future reference. Definitely worth catching whilst it's available if you can because it outlines a whole set of of very ancient literacies which are part of the transliterate universe.
Put Your Hands Together
In a self-consciously clap-happy exploration of one of the most delightful and satisfying forms of human action and expression, Nick Baker investigates the meanings and motivations, the sounds and symbolism, the elation and frustration of ritually striking one hand with another.
The clapping rhythms of football, flamenco, the nursery and the Pentecostal church are all biologically linked yet subtly different. In this anatomy of a basic human ritual, Nick has collected claps as far apart as Fiji – where a clapping ritual accompanies a narcotic-taking ceremony – and China, where young women on busy high streets clap to attract attention to what's on offer in the stores. Choreographer Luke Creswell, an expert clapper, collects clap-routines in bars all over the world.
What's linked in all cases, according to Professor Colwyn Trevarthen, is humanity's attunement to one of its many internal biological clocks – the one that gives us walking, chewing and nodding our head. He invites listeners to join in with a simple experiment to demonstrate the rhythm of life.
Babies clap early & show awareness of hands in the womb. The clap is not the basis of language development, it is language development. It is display, performance, shared meaning & shared time. Gospel singer Ruby Turner provides musical commentary on how the hand clap moves from babies, through Sunday School, the playground and the church towards soul and R and B.
Do our biological predecessors clap? Perhaps we've been exposed to too many tea commercials. Or maybe chimpanzees have been too exposed to us, primatologist Alison Fletcher explains.