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Nursery Rhymes Songs

Updated on April 10, 2011

The traditional verses, classified as nursery rhymes, which are the heritage of each generation of young children, are more familiarly known i.n the United States as Mother Goose Rhymes or simply Mother Goose. The term "Mother Goose" came to the United States from France via England. In 1697, Charles Perrault of France published a collection of tales popularly known as 'C antes de ma mere Joie' (Tales of Mother Goose), from a subtitle which appeared in the frontispiece of his 'Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passe'.

Translated, the book became popular in England, and when, 1760, a British publisher, supposedly John Newbery, printed a book of children's rhymes, he named it Mother Goose's Melody: or, Sonnets for the Cradle. This book was pirated under its original title by New World publishers, the most famous copy being the second Worcester edition printed by Isaiah Thomas of Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1794.

After this time, the term Mother Goose was generally applied to rhymes for nursery-age children in the United States, although it dropped out of use in England and was replaced by the more exact "nursery rhymes." Before the 18th century, nursery rhymes had been referred to by English-speaking peoples as "songs," "ditties," or, in pre-14th century nomenclature, "lullynges" and "cradle songs."

Origins of Nursery Rhymes

The large majority of familiar nursery rhymes were a part of oral tradition for generations before they first appeared in print. Their history may be traced back through casual references in literature, but their origins may rarely be determined because for centuries they were considered too trivial to be recorded. It is certain, however, that few of them were originally composed for children. With the exception of lullabies, play or dandling rhymes, and a few rhyming alphabets, the majority of nursery rhymes are those parts of adult entertainment that caught the ear and fancy of little children and therefore were perpetuated by them. They may have been fragments of folk songs, ballads, and barroom airs, or once-familiar cries of street vendors; they may once have been sly satires on important personages, or crude jokes and romantic verses that lost their original broad meanings through the censorship of adult transmission. Some of them retained ancient wordings through the demands of young children for exact reproduction of familiar phrases, whereas others became meaningless as they were transferred from one language to another or the meaning was replaced.

As a unified whole, they are not constant in quantity, but are being added to or subtracted from in each generation.

Late editions of Mother Goose contain a medley of the traditional and the modern, with such British ancients as "Little Bo-Peep" and "Humpty-Dumpty" sharing space with the comparatively modern Americans: "There was a little girl and she had a little Curl" (attributed to H. W. Longfellow. 1860) and "Mary had a little Lamb" (Sarah Hale 1830).

Universality of Nursery Rhymes

Many nursery rhymes have counterparts in every European language and in several Asiatic and African dialects. "Humpty Dumpty," "Jack and Jill," and many others are found all over Europe. Analogues of such rhymes as "Pat-a-cake" and "The House that Jack Built" have been found in the oral traditions of peoples civilized and uncivilized the world over. The rhymes of Italy, France, Germany, England and her dominions, and the Scandinavian countries often deal with the same subject and in the same form of verse, and may appear meaningless in one country because of retention of local words in order to retain the original, child-pleasing jingle of sound.


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