Thursday, April 28, 2011
Mother Africa For Language
Perhaps again. The evidence for
to be the founding ancestral maelstrom has been mapped through a range of lines
and they all point to the same place.
Cultural data takes it further and supports the argument that modern
humanity arose on the eastern continental shelf of Southern
Thus we all quite rightly look to
My quibble comes from the realization that Southern Africa was the western most part of a tropical world that passed through
chains, southern India and Indonesia into when the sea level was
much lower. This tropical world was
connected, though I would like to see genetic drift analysis on it all. Austrasia
I simply do not trust the final assertion.
I would also like to see comparative work on languages extended to obvious tests such as
New Guinea and South
America to see how well the idea stands up.
New study argues traces the evolutionary origin of language to
Africa, also the cradle of humanity
Landscape shot showing the snowy peaks of
from the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy (ROBERTO SCHMIDT) Mt. Kenya
(Updated 5 pm ET) Is
birthplace of human language? That's the claim made in a new paper by a University of Auckland
evolutionary psychologist who traced the evolutionary origin of human language
to Africa - the continent that also happens to
be the place where humanity got its start.
Linguists have faced myriad challenges tracking the evolution of languages as they spread around the globe. The most common tack has been to investigate and compare differences in the development of word and grammatical structures. But the paper, published by Quentin D. Atkinson in the journal Science, instead focuses on the study of consonants, vowels and tones - phonemes - which form languages. In doing so, Atkinson claims to have found repeating themes within the 504 languages that are currently spoken around the world.
As he sought for a way to unlock the puzzle surrounding the origin of human language, Atkinson said there were a couple of clues that convinced him to look at phonemes.
In an email interview with CBSNews.com, he pointed to a 2007 paper that appeared in the journal "Language" showing that small populations tend to have fewer phonemes, which is what is required to generate a serial founder effect. He also was influenced by work done by other researchers who examined computer models of cultural evolution which predicts the same effect.
What he found was that as our ancestors began to migrate from sub-Saharan
Africa, it affected the number of
distinct sounds that got used. The upshot: the greater the distance that
humans traveled out of Africa, the fewer
number of phonemes were detected in the languages they spoke. So, for example,
English has about 45 phonemes, while some African languages have twice as many.
Atkinson's sleuthing places the so-called mother tongue that would have been spoken by people in
Africa sometime between
and 50,000 and 70,000 years ago. That would coincide with a concomitant burst
in human creativity, which expressed itself in the development of cave
art as well as the use of more advanced tools to hunt animals. Although
Atkinson doesn't go that far, it does suggest a link between language and
the emergence of symbolic culture in Africa,
such as the appearance of beads, ornaments, patterns scratched into rocks.
To the extent that language can be considered an example of cultural evolution, Atkinson's paper notes that the findings "support the proposal that a cultural founder effect operated during our colonization of the globe, potentially limiting the size and cultural complexity of societies at the vanguard of the human expansion."
Unfortunately, there's not enough evidence to to zero in any further on the geographic "ground zero" where language might have first originated in
"The method can only really point to sub-Saharan
in general," according to Atkinson.