Climate, environment influenced language evolution

Washington: According to a recent study, environment and climate have helped shape the varied evolution of the human languages.

Researchers suggested that the variations in human linguistic evolution also reflect adaptations to the local ecological conditions.

The University of New Mexico and Laboratoire Dynamique du Langage-CNRS researchers conducted an extensive study to examine the relationship between the sound structures of a worldwide sample of human languages and climatic and ecological factors including temperature, precipitation, vegetation and geomorphology.

The study, which will be presented at the 170th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), being held Nov. 2-6, 2015, in Jacksonville, shows a correlation between ecological factors and the ratio of sonorant segments, which are produced by uninterrupted airflow, to obstruent segments, which are formed by obstructing airflow, in the examined languages.

This supports the hypothesis that acoustic adaptation to the environment plays a role in the evolution of human languages.

Primary researcher Ian Maddieson said that they believe this work is by far the most extensive and careful work on a possible link between specific aspects of human languages’ sound patterns and environmental factors.

Maddieson said that their findings offer support for an application of the Acoustic Adaptation Hypothesis — which argues that species adapt their acoustic signals to optimize sound transmission in the environment they live in — to human languages.

The hypothesis was first proposed by E.S. Morton in 1975 in relation to the calls of 177 bird species. (ANI)