Modern Language Born in Africa? Maybe

There’s an interesting story in today’s New York Times about the evolution of language. Apparently, a researcher has detected a common element in all language that suggests Africa is the place where humans first spoke. The more controversial outcome of the findings is the idea that “modern language originated only once,” which is apparently a hotly-debated topic among linguists.  The new theory looked at phonemes, which are the sounds that make up language, instead of words. The idea is that the farther a group moved away from Africa, the fewer phonemes are found in their languages: “Some of the click-using languages of Africa have more than 100 phonemes, whereas Hawaiian, toward the far end of the human migration route out of Africa, has only 13. English has about 45 phonemes.”

Read an abstract of the study, published in the journal Science.


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