A new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Zurich, has claimed that agriculture plays a crucial role in changing the way humans speak. Researchers found that agriculture introduced a wide range of softer foods to humans, thus altering the way in which human teeth and jaw wore down with age. It also apparently helped humans to produce soft labiodental sounds like ‘f’ and ‘v’.
Labiodental sounds are produced by positioning the lower lip under the upper teeth. Researchers during the study, which was published in journal Science, found that these sounds were literally absent in cultures whose ancestors were hunters.
The study also confirmed that culturally induced changes in human biology had played a direct role in altering the arc of various global languages. Researchers admitted that there is no guarantee of changes in languages, but they made it clear that these changes actually helped humans to deliver soft sounds very easily.
“I hope our study will trigger a wider discussion on the fact that at least some aspects of language and speech—and I insist, some—need to be treated as we treat other complex human behaviors: laying between biology and culture,” said Damián Blasi, lead author of the study.
It should be noted that there are more than 2,000 different sounds that exist across the world in roughly 8,000 languages and it includes ubiquitous cardinal vowels like ‘a’ and ‘i,’ as well as the rare click consonants mainly used in Southern African languages.
Tecumseh Fitch, an expert on bioacoustics at the University of Vienna who was not a part of this research revealed that this project is one of the most convincing studies that prove “how biological constraints on language change could themselves change over time due to cultural changes.”
However, skeptics do not seem convinced about the finding made by Blasi and his team. As per some linguistic experts, most humans share identical biological tools and sound-making abilities for spoken languages.
“We really need to know that the small differences observed in studies like this aren’t swamped by the ordinary diversity within a community,” said Adam Albright, a linguist at MIT, National Geographic reports