Navigation Links
Human Language Origins Traced to Africa, Study Finds
Date:4/14/2011

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:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:10/13/2017)... ... October 13, 2017 , ... Many families have long-term ... long-term care insurance companies have a waiver for care if the client has a ... when the family pays for care, is often waived, so the benefits from their ...
(Date:10/13/2017)... NY (PRWEB) , ... October 13, 2017 , ... Ellevate ... people in business to advocate for action towards gender equality at their inaugural Summit ... from around the globe, and reached a social audience of over 3 million. To ...
(Date:10/13/2017)... ... October 13, 2017 , ... Yisrayl Hawkins, Pastor and Overseer at The House ... most popular and least understood books in the Holy Scriptures, Revelation. The Book of ... baffled scholars for centuries. Many have tossed it off as mere rubbish, but Yisrayl ...
(Date:10/13/2017)... (PRWEB) , ... October 13, 2017 , ... ... DevOps and Agile Software Development, has been awarded a contract by the Center ... Purchase Agreement (BPA) aims to accelerate the enterprise use of Agile methodologies in ...
(Date:10/13/2017)... (PRWEB) , ... October 13, 2017 , ... “America On ... Christian identity. “America On The Brink” is the creation of published author, William ... several great-grandchildren. As a WWII veteran, he spent thirty years in the Navy. ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
(Date:9/22/2017)... ROCKVILLE, Md. , Sept. 22, 2017  As ... by Republican Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and ... Kalorama Information notes that the medical device industry is ... the medical device tax, the 2.3% excise tax on ... Act.  But they also want covered patients, increased visits ...
(Date:9/19/2017)... Mich. , Sept. 19, 2017 HistoSonics, Inc., a venture-backed medical device company ... destruction of targeted tissues, announced three leadership team developments today:   ... PhD ... ... Veteran medical device executive Josh ...
(Date:9/18/2017)... KALAMAZOO, Mich. , Sept. 18, 2017 ... , and OptiMed Specialty Pharmacy of Kalamazoo, ... offer a strategic hub service that expedites and streamlines ... personal spirometer, Spiro PD 2.0, and wellness management services.  ... is a medical device used to measure lung function ...
Breaking Medicine Technology: