Africa - the birthplace of human language


18/04/2011

Psychologists at the University of Auckland recently published in the journal "Science" and "Nature" are two basic research, which studied the diversity of languages around the world. The first analysis, published by Dr. Quentin Atkinson (Quentin Atkinson) provides strong evidence that Africa is the birthplace of human language.

Analysis of all languages around the world gives the assumption that, like our genes, human speech stretches back from the African Subsahary. Atkinson studied the phonemes or significantly distinctive sound units that make up the differences in the words used in 504 human languages today and found that the largest number of phonemes were in Africa, and decreased with increasing distance from Africa.

Least of all the phonemes found in South America and on tropical islands in the Pacific Ocean. This pattern fits the model "serial founder effect" in which a small population at the end of its expansion progressively lose diversity. Dr. Atkinson that this sample using phoneme around the world reflects the pattern of human genetic diversity, which also demonstrated a recession, when people, whose numbers grew, went out of Africa, inhabiting other regions.

In general, the local languages in the areas of the globe that were settled more recently, include fewer phonemes, whereas in areas that modern humans settled in for a couple of millennia (particularly sub-Saharan Africa) are still used by a large number of phonemes.

This decline in the use of phonemes can not be explained by demographic changes or other local indicators that provides strong confirmation of the emergence of modern human languages in Africa, as well as parallel mechanisms that slowly shaped both genetic and linguistic diversity among people.

In the second analysis, published in the journal "Nature" researchers at the University of Auckland, Professor Russel Gray (Russell Gray) and Dr Simon Greenhill (Simon Greenhill) together with their colleagues Michael Dunn (Michael Dunn) and Stephen Levinson (Stephen Levinson) of the Max Planck Institute , Department of Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands, has developed the idea that the human brain produces universal rules for the language.

"The variety of the world’s languages is amazing" - said Professor Gray. "There are about 7,000 languages spoken today. Included in one of about a dozen contrastive sounds, others - more than 100, some typical examples of complex text of education, others - in simple terms: the one with the verb at the beginning of the sentence, the other in the middle, and some even with the verb at the end of the sentence ".

"Our work shows that the claims by some linguists who insist on a strong role of the innate structure of the human mind in shaping linguistic change was too overrated" - he said.

Using computational methods derived from evolutionary biology, Professor Gray and his research team analyzed samples of the global evolution of the text of the order. Instead of the universal characteristics of the samples according to the text of the order, they found that each had its own language family evolving trends. "When it comes to the evolution of language, culture comes clearance" - said Gray.

Original: Sciencedaily Translation: M. Potter


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