Navigation Links
Human Language Origins Traced to Africa, Study Finds

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

Thursday, April 14 (HealthDay News) -- Just as the genetic heritage of humans can be traced to Africa, the world's languages also originated there and spread across the globe, a new study suggests.

New Zealand researcher Quentin Atkinson analyzed the phonemes -- distinct units of sound that differentiate words -- used in modern speech and found that their pattern mirrors that of human genetic diversity.

As humans migrated out of Africa and began colonizing other regions, genetic diversity decreased. According to the study, phoneme diversity tended to decrease, too.

In a study appearing in the April 15 issue of Science, Atkinson suggests that today's phoneme usage fits a "serial founder effect" model of expansion from Africa, where dialects using the most phonemes are spoken. Those with the fewest phonemes are spoken in South America and on tropical islands in the Pacific Ocean, he said.

"If our languages can be traced to Africa, and language is a marker of cultural ancestry, then . . . we are a family in a cultural as well as a genetic sense," said Atkinson, a post-doctoral researcher in the department of psychology at University of Auckland. "I think that is pretty cool."

Atkinson said he undertook the research because he knew that languages used fewer sounds in small populations and thought it would be interesting to determine if a "linguistic founder effect" existed that would explain how language evolved.

In general, he said, areas of the world that were more recently colonized incorporate fewer phonemes into local languages, while long-populated regions such as sub-Saharan Africa still use the most phonemes.

"I found a clear decrease in diversity with distance from Africa," Atkinson said.

Jeffrey Laitman, professor and director of the Center for Anatomy and Functional Morphology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, called the study "an extraordinary piece of detective work that sheds light on the process of human evolution . . . through the lens of language."

"It has been very difficult for individuals to get a handle on this and trace back," said Laitman, also a professor of otolaryngology. "It gives us extraordinary insight into an area that's not been looked at like this."

Despite the fact that language originated in Africa, however, that doesn't mean dialects still spoken there are more complex or varied than others far away, said Suzanne Kemmer, an associate professor of linguistics at Rice University in Houston.

"Africa shows a lot of complexity and diversity because it's a source area," said Kemmer, also director of cognitive sciences. But, "you can always show that a language that is thought to be less complex is more complex in some way."

Atkinson agreed, noting that some North American languages use more sounds than African ones.

"There is a lot of variation around the globe, even within regions," he said. "The finding is about a statistical trend or average. It is also worth remembering that languages code meaning in many different ways and so having more sounds doesn't really mean a language is more complex in terms of expressivity."

More information

Learn about the origins of the English language at Merriam-Webster.

SOURCES: Quentin Atkinson, Ph.D., post-doctoral researcher, Department of Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand; Jeffrey Laitman, Ph.D., professor and director, anatomy and functional morphology, and professor, otolaryngology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City; Suzanne Kemmer, Ph.D., associate professor, linguistics, and director, cognitive sciences, Rice University, Houston; April 15, 2011, Science

Copyright©2010 ScoutNews,LLC.
All rights reserved

Related medicine news :

1. Actor and Humanitarian Harrison Ford Assists Operation Smiles Relief Efforts in Haiti
2. Human Dental Technology Leads to Breakthroughs for Pet Dental Health at Sergeants Pet Care Products, Inc.
3. Scripps Health Begins Pioneering Study of Human Tumor Sequencing in Cancer Patients
4. New drug for kidney transplant recipients effective in humans
5. Agility Consulting Partners with pan (Performance Assessment Network) to Bring Custom Private Label Assessment Capability to Human Resource Professionals and Consultants
6. Dolphins health shed light on human and ocean health
7. Dolphins could be ideal model to study human cervical cancer, UF veterinarians say
8. Dolphins May Warn of Health Risks in Humans
9. Inadequate access to opioid-based pain relief is a human rights issue for cancer patients
10. Sociologist expands US conversation on human rights
11. State of Oregon Department of Human Services Selects Netsmart Technologies for Comprehensive Behavioral Healthcare Integration Project
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/30/2015)... ... November 30, 2015 , ... HemoTreat™ has announced that the ... ointment to its website. , “Our goal is simple:” says Michael Blasco, HemoTreat’s ... the comparison chart and ingredient list allows our customers to quickly see why, ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... ... November 30, 2015 , ... ... by athletic teams looking to maximize recovery through quality sleep. Tim DiFrancesco, training ... consistently get a better night’s sleep. ChiliPad precisely regulates the surface temperature of ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... Plains, NJ (PRWEB) , ... November 30, 2015 ... ... their top choice for innovative, patient centered orthopedic care. Led by John ... of your injury or chronic condition, the team at Advocare Orthopedic & Sports ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... ... 30, 2015 , ... Dr. Seth D. Margulies specializes in orthodontics and is ... Margulies to experience the best available orthodontic experience in the area. Dr. Margulies ... , Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry that specializes in the diagnosis, prevention, and ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... , ... November 30, 2015 , ... Newly reviewed and ... His grandfather graduated from Tufts School of Dental Medicine in 1935. His father ... the Isola family being in dentistry as well as their commitment and passion to ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
(Date:11/30/2015)... KONG, Nov. 30, 2015 (HK$,000)For the Six Months Ended 30 September 2015 ... Income , 421,979 , 384,242 , ... , 34,719 , (18.3) Medical Insurance ... , 16.1 Medical Devices and Accessories Sales , ... Chinese Herbal Medicines Sales , 2,822 , ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... Calif. , Nov. 30, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... the norm in U.S. medical imaging is ... increasingly popular accountable care payer-provider contracts are ... and, in their wake, alter provider-vendor relationships. ... payments will push forward new purchasing frameworks ...
(Date:11/30/2015)... Nov. 30, 2015 Oramed Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: ... the development of oral drug delivery systems, announced today ... at up to $50,000,000 with Hefei Tianhui Incubator of Technologies Co., Ltd. ... capsule, ORMD-0801, in China , ... . The agreements were signed at the Israel ...
Breaking Medicine Technology: