Friday, 15 April 2011

Out of Africa: Language as Well as Our Forefathers

Fascinating story in the New York Times this morning about a study published this week in Science, contending that tracking the number of phonemes a language can indicate the path that the people who speak it took as they migrated.

The study starts out with the observation that African languages, like Khoisan, have as many as 100 phonemes--the discreet sounds that we use to form words--but Hawaiian, spoken on islands that were quite recently colonized by humans, has only 13. English has about 45, by way of comparison.

Mapping the number of phonemes shows the same pattern that mapping genetic diversity produces. The conclusion to draw: we're all related on the tips of our tongues as well as under our skin.

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