Nav: Home

Diet-related changes in human bite spread new speech sounds

March 14, 2019

Contradicting the theory that the range of human sounds has remained fixed throughout human history, a new study reports that sounds such as "f" and "v", both common in many modern languages, are a relatively recent development - one brought about by diet-induced changes in the human bite. These changes resulted in new sounds in languages all over the world, the study reports. The researchers say their work reveals how the influence of biological conditions on the development of sounds has been underestimated. Human speech is incredibly diverse, ranging from ubiquitous sounds like "m" and "a" to the rare click consonants in some languages of Southern Africa. 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. Inspired by an observation made by linguist Charles Hockett in 1985, that languages that foster sounds like "f" and "v" are often found in societies with access to softer foods, Damian Blasi and colleagues undertook a detailed interdisciplinary investigation of how speech sounds were shaped by changes in human bite as diet changed, particularly as humans transitioned away from hunting and gathering. Through efforts including detailed biomechanical simulations of different human orofacial structures, Blasi and colleagues showed that a shift in adult tooth structure that kept adult's upper teeth slightly more in front as compared to the lower teeth - a shift that correlated with the rise of food processing technology such as industrial milling - led to the rise of a new class of speech sounds. This class of sounds, now found in half of the world's languages, is known as labiodentals - or sounds made by touching the lower lip to the upper teeth, for example when pronouncing the letter "f". Use of labiodentals increased dramatically only in recent millennia, the authors say, following the development of agriculture. The researchers say their findings suggest language is shaped by culturally-induced changes in human biology to a previously underrecognized extent.
-end-


American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related Languages Articles:

Tell me what languages you know and I'll tell you how you read
The languages we speak influence several factors that we rely on for our ability to read, such as visual attention and phonological processes.
In young bilingual children 2 languages develop simultaneously but independently
A study of bilingual children finds that when children learn any two languages from birth each language proceeds on its own independent course, at a rate that reflects the quality of the children's exposure to each language.
Linguistic and cultural knowledge affect whether languages are identified correctly
A popular online game shows how linguistic and cultural knowledge may affect whether players can correctly identify different languages, according to a study published April 5, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Hedvig SkirgÄrd from the Australian National University, Australia and colleagues.
Languages still a major barrier to global science, new research finds
Over one-third of new conservation science documents published annually are in non-English languages, despite assumption of English as scientific 'lingua franca.' Researchers find examples of important science missed at international level, and practitioners struggling to access new knowledge, as a result of language barriers.
New approach may open up speech recognition to more languages
At the Neural Information Processing Systems conference this week, researchers from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) are presenting a new approach to training speech-recognition systems that doesn't depend on transcription.
Bilingual brains activate different networks when reading opaque and transparent languages
Three Spanish researchers have discovered that bilinguals use different neural networks to read languages that are pronounced as they are written -- such as the Basque language -- from those in which this correspondence does not exist, like English.
EEG recordings prove learning foreign languages can sharpen our minds
Scientists say the more foreign languages we learn, the more effectively our brain reacts and processes the data accumulated in the course of learning.
Unlocking the languages of autistic children in families
This pioneering research using drama with autistic children started with an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project 'Imagining Autism: Drama, Performance and Intermediality as Interventions for Autistic Spectrum Conditions' (2011-2014) working in special schools and has now extended to working with families.
Researchers want to achieve machine translation of the 24 languages of the EU
Automatic online translation of an English text into French generally produces acceptable results.
Sign languages provide insight into universal linguistic short-cuts
Humans have a natural drive to reduce physical effort in nearly every activity, including using language.

Related Languages Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...