Human Ancestors' Diet Led You to Pronounce Your F's and V's


The study found that only 49 per cent of the world's languages contain labiodental sounds.

However, a study published yesterday in the journal Science suggests that some sounds - including "f" and "v" - are new additions, appearing only 3,000 to 6,000 years ago. However, this range of sounds is generally thought to have been established with the emergence of the Homo sapiens around 300,000 years ago - independent of any changes in human biology after that time.

American linguist Charles Hockett had in 1985 first proposed that labiodentals are overwhelmingly absent in languages whose speakers live from hunting and gathering, because the associated wear and tear diet induces an edge-to-edge bite. Even though hunter-gatherers were born with overbites, they would eventually shift to edge-to-edge bites, since they consumed a harder and tougher diet.

Changes in human diet over the centuries gave rise to f-words, says a study that provides the strongest evidence yet for a theory that diet-induced changes in teeth shaped humans' capacity to make certain speech sounds.

An worldwide group of scientists made a decision to test this hypothesis but include a broader approach by combining phonetics historical linguistics with biological anthropology.

The research study by Blasi and his collaborators from France, Germany, the Netherlands and Russian Federation will appear in the USA journal Science on Friday. "But there are dozens of superficial correlations involving language which are spurious, and linguistic behavior, such as pronunciation, doesn't fossilize", says co-first author Damián Blasi.

As softer foods became available, the overbite that had previously disappeared by adulthood remained, with upper teeth slightly in front of lower teeth, the researchers explained. It's much more hard.

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"In Europe, our data suggests that the use of labiodentals has increased dramatically only in the last couple of millennia, correlated with the rise of food processing technology such as industrial milling", Steven Moran, study author and researcher in the Comparative Linguistics Department, said in a statement.

"The influence of biological conditions on the development of sounds has so far been underestimated", he added in a university news release. Today, the human language is characterized by a great diversity including thousands of different sounds in about 7,000 languages in the current age.

The change in human bite increased the likelihood of the sounds being accidentally produced and introduced into language, they suggest.

The study was focused only on labiodental sounds within the well-documented Indo-European language family that stretches from Iceland to the Indian state of Assam.

It should be noted that there are more than 2,000 different sounds that exist across the world in roughly 8,000 languages and it includes ubiquitous cardinal vowels like "a" and 'i, ' as well as the rare click consonants mainly used in Southern African languages.

"Our results shed light on complex causal links between cultural practices, human biology and language", says Balthasar Bickel, project leader and UZH professor.



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