Anthropology

Soggy climates affect language

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
518,
Page:
141
Date published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/518141c
Published online

In warm, moist climates, human languages developed with more complex linguistic tones than did those in colder, drier regions.

It is thought that language is not influenced by ecological factors. However, Caleb Everett at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, and his colleagues concluded the opposite after looking at studies of vocal-cord biology and comparing the geographic origins of more than 3,700 languages with the humidity and annual average temperatures of those regions. The vocal-cord data showed that cords produce sounds of varying pitch more accurately in moist air than in dry air. Languages with complex tone, such as Mandarin Chinese, originated mainly in warm, moist climates, whereas languages such as English, which have little or no tone, came from arid or cold regions.

Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 13221327 (2015)

Comments

  1. Report this comment #65083

    Jean SmilingCoyote said:

    Somewhat along these lines, I hypothesized a long time ago that languages from cold climates, especially in the Northern Hemisphere (e.g. Inuktitut), are more suitable for the art of ventriloquism, because people's lips get cold and we are disinclined to use them a lot in speaking. I think the frequency of phonemes requiring use of the lips is lower in these languages. Is there are research on this?

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