Navigation path

Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Botswana
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Finland
  France
  Gambia
  Georgia
  Germany
  Ghana
  Greece

Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Botswana
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Finland
  France
  Gambia
  Georgia
  Germany
  Ghana
  Greece


This page was published on 09/03/2012
Published: 09/03/2012

   Headlines

Published: 9 March 2012  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Research policySeventh Framework Programme
Science in societyScience communication  |  Science communication
Add to PDF "basket"

Study counters 'cradle of language' theory

Most researchers believe that the origins of human language are found in Africa, in particular the south-west part of the continent. But a new study from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU) in Germany counters this belief, claiming there is not enough data to support the 'out of Africa' hypothesis. The research is backed by the QUANTHISTLING ('Quantitative modelling of historical-comparative linguistics') project, which is funded by a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant worth EUR 1.93 million as part of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The findings of the study, presented in the journal Science, indicate that the search for the site of the origin of language is still on.

Out of Africa? © Shutterstock
Out of Africa?
©  Shutterstock

In 2011, Quentin Atkinson of Auckland University in New Zealand suggested that language originated in the south-west of Africa. Dr Atkinson based his theory on a comparative analysis of the numbers of phonemes found in about 500 present-day languages. Phonemes are the most basic sound units - i.e. consonants, vowels and tones - that establish semantic differentiation in all languages. Phonemes are used in natural languages, and they are many in number. The Auckland researcher had discovered that the highest levels of phoneme diversity occurred in languages spoken in south-western Africa. He also found that the size of the phoneme inventory in a language usually shrinks the further it is found from this area of Africa.

Dr Atkinson used a parallel from population genetics to shed light on what he found. Scientists have found an analogous effect with respect to human genetic diversity, and how the latter progressively decreases the further it is from Africa. Experts call this the 'founder effect'. The more people left Africa, the more the total genetic diversity present in the African population as a whole started to shrink.

But LMU's Dr Cysouw and his colleagues demonstrate that ascertaining the site of language origin is contingent on the features that are taken into account. So, according to them, while the cradle of language may well be traced to Africa, it could just as likely be found anywhere else across the globe.


Convert article(s) to PDF

No article selected


loading


Search articles

Notes:
To restrict search results to articles in the Information Centre, i.e. this site, use this search box rather than the one at the top of the page.

After searching, you can expand the results to include the whole Research and Innovation web site, or another section of it, or all Europa, afterwards without searching again.

Please note that new content may take a few days to be indexed by the search engine and therefore to appear in the results.

Print Version
Share this article
See also

European Research Council (ERC)
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU)





  Top   Research Information Center