Published: Sat, March 16, 2019
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Ancestral Diet Changes Might Have Given Us the 'F' Word, Study Finds

Ancestral Diet Changes Might Have Given Us the 'F' Word, Study Finds

A new study suggests that labiodental sounds like "f" and "v" are included in about half of the world's languages due to a change in our diet that relies on softer foods.

A group of global scientists, which published their findings in Science, are contradicting the theory stating that all possible human sounds have remained the same since humans emerged 300,000 years ago, CNN reported.

The notion that agriculture shaped language was first suggested decades ago by American linguist Charles Hockett, but he did not attempt to prove it.

Changes in human diet over the centuries gave rise to f-words, says a study that provides the strongest evidence yet for a theory that diet-induced changes in teeth shaped humans' capacity to make certain speech sounds.

In order to unravel the mechanisms underlying the observed correlations, the scientists combined insights, data and methods from across the sciences, including biological anthropology, phonetics and historical linguistics. Their study was published in the journal Science on Thursday. Bickel is a professor of comparative linguistics at the university. When humans started eating softer food like cheese, tooth wear became less pronounced and as a result, more and more people kept an overbite into adulthood. He said that the change in tooth wear due to a shift in diet did gurantee the production of the "f" and "v" sounds. 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", Steven Moran, the study's author, said in a University of Zurich press release.

"The set of speech sounds we use has not necessarily remained stable since the emergence of our species, but rather the huge diversity of speech sounds that we find today is the product of a complex interplay of factors involving biological change and cultural evolution", said University of Zurich team member Steven Moran. Today, the human language is characterized by a great diversity including thousands of different sounds in about 7,000 languages in the current age. They also found that labiodental sounds occurred accidentally when trying to make other speech sounds in the overbite model.

The study was focused only on labiodental sounds within the well-documented Indo-European language family that stretches from Iceland to the Indian state of Assam. This doesn't account for the wide range of "a" or "m" sounds, or even the clicking associated with some South African languages. The spread of pottery for preserving food, especially as agriculture was introduced, is also a key part of the softer foods diet.

The research team led by Damián Blasi from the University of Zurich and the Max Planck Institute in Jena, Germany, said the language is the basic form of communication among human beings, the German News Agency reported. They analyzed a database of roughly 2,000 languages - more than a quarter of languages in existence today - to identify which sounds were more and less frequently used, and where.

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