How did I come to overlook the obviously related tune of Bye baby bunting? (Though the tune given in Wikipedia starts off with a narrower interval than the minor third we were discussing.)
I thought the most thought-provoking comment was one by MKR.
"Research seems to indicate that this exact constellation of two notes [viz., a falling minor third] (and its three-note variant) is the same all over the world, wherever children tease each other, on every continent and in every culture" (Leonard Bernstein, The Unanswered Question, lecture 1, "Musical Phonology"; starting at 27:00 in this video). Bernstein returns to the example in lecture 3, "The Delights and Dangers of Ambiguity" (at 08:45 in this video), where he attributes the prevalence of the pattern to its tonal ambiguity.
I watched the first hour of the first Bernstein lecture.
It seems to me that Bernstein’s discussion leading up to 27:00 involves some rather amateurish linguistics. The universals m and ɑ are not ‘phonemes’ found in all languages: rather, they are sound-types or phonetic segments that are supposedly universal.
Actually, though, and contrary to Bernstein’s claim, WALS reports thirteen languages with no nasals in their consonant inventory. (Some of these, it is true, may make use of m as a positional variant of some consonant that is otherwise not nasal.)
A total of 13 languages in the sample are listed as having no nasals in their consonant inventories. Some of these languages, such as Quileute (Chimakuan; Washington State), Rotokas (West Bougainville; Papua New Guinea) and Pirahã (Mura; Brazil), make no systematic use of nasality in their sound system at all; the last two have especially small phoneme inventories overall. The majority of these languages, however, do make use of nasality, but it patterns in such a way that simple nasal consonants do not need to be considered contrastive segments.
The Quileute language “is famous for its lack of nasal sounds, such as [m]”.
In Central Rotokas, we read,“nasals are rarely heard except when a native speaker is trying to imitate a foreigner’s attempt to speak Rotokas. In this case the nasals are used in the mimicry whether they were pronounced by the foreign speaker or not”.
In Pirahã, while there are no nasal phonemes, /b/, i.e. the consonant that is distinctively voiced and labial, is realized as [m] after a pause.
So Bernstein seems to be wrong about m, at least for Quileute and Central Rotokas. Likewise I am left wondering what evidence there is that, as he claims, “this exact constellation of two notes [viz., a falling minor third] (and its three-note variant) is the same all over the world, wherever children tease each other, on every continent and in every culture”.
It’s certainly a widespread, but is it a universal?