Diet-related changes in human bite spread new speech sounds

This Is How Change In Human Diets Affected Our Language And Speech

"Our anatomy actually changed the types of sounds being incorporated into languages", Noreen von Cramon-Taubadel, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Buffalo who was not involved in the study, wrote in an email.

Changes in human diet resulted in the development of sounds such as "f" and "v", new research suggests. The findings contradict the theory that the range of human sounds has remained fixed throughout human history.

The project was inspired by an observation made by linguist Charles Hockett back in 1985.

The researchers explained in the study that humans are born with vertical and horizontal overbite and since humans in the Paleolithic age ate tough, uncooked meats, the wear was greater and the overbite was short-lived. The study shows that sounds such as "f" and "v", both common in many modern languages, are a relatively recent development that was brought about by diet-induced changes in the human bite.

Moran's team based its conclusion on insights, data and methods from multiple branches of science, including biological anthropology, phonetics and historical linguistics.

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Thousands of years ago, when humans began cooking or preparing their food in other forms, the structure of their teeth altered, and thus, eased the pronunciation of certain letters that are today involved in several global languages, as explained the researchers in their study published Thursday in the Science Magazine. Bickel is a professor of comparative linguistics at the university.

The researchers noticed that softer foods allowed modern humans to retain the juvenile overbite that once disappeared in adulthood, putting the upper teeth slightly in front of the lower teeth and allowing for labiodental sounds when the upper teeth touched the lower lip. It's much more hard.

"In Europe, our data suggests that the use of labiodentals has increased dramatically only in the last couple of millennia, correlated with the rise of food processing technology such as industrial milling", said study co-first author Steven Moran, a linguist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. The sounds we utter are also shaped, literally, by the placement of our jaw - and that is influenced by how we chew our food, researchers say in a report released Thursday, March 14, 2019, in the journal Science. They also found that labiodental sounds occurred accidentally when trying to make other speech sounds in the overbite model.

The researchers looked closely at 52 languages from what is called the Indo-European language group - including dialects spoken from Iceland to India - and charted how the "f" and "v" sounds appeared in a rising number of languages over time. They range from the virtually ubiquitous "m" to the rare "click consonants" heard in several languages in southern Africa. The spread of pottery for preserving food, especially as agriculture was introduced, is also a key part of the softer foods diet.

"Our results shed light on complex causal links between cultural practices, human biology and language", Dr Balthasar Bickel, from the University of Zurich, said.

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