What is the V language

Evolution of language: When the V came up

Zurich. (est / sda) Hard meat and tough plants: hunters and gatherers used the bit as a tool for the rough. Whatever they hunted and found to eat, they had to cut and grind with their teeth in order to be able to chew and swallow it.

A certain tooth position, which was expressed up to adulthood, proved to be useful. It is called a head bite in technical jargon: the upper and lower incisors come to rest edge on edge.

With the invention of agriculture in the Neolithic Age, however, the position of the teeth changed. New processing methods put softer dishes on the menu that people could eat more easily, and the chewing apparatus had to be less forceful. An international research team reports on the consequences for teeth and teeth. The surprising thing: The changes in the jaw apparently also had an effect on the language. According to the study published in the journal "Science", they paved the way for the sounds "F" and "V".

The human language knows very different sounds, from the ubiquitous "M" or "A" to the rare click consonants of some languages ​​in southern Africa. So far, the popular theory has been that these sounds have been in use since the appearance of Homo sapiens 300,000 years ago. The researchers working with Damian Blasi from the University of Zurich report differently on the evolution of the spoken word. According to them, the sounds "V" and "F" are rather new and owed to new grinding and cooking techniques as a result of agriculture.

As softer foods spread, the jaw continued to develop too. According to the researchers, the overbite, in which the upper teeth protrude slightly from the lower, persisted from childhood to adulthood. Labiodental is the technical term for people in whom the lower lip and upper incisors come into contact. This jaw position occurs in half of all language areas. The linguist Charles Hockett had already suggested in 1985 that nutrition could play an important role in the development of these sounds, indirectly through the position of the teeth. According to a press release from their university, the Zurich researchers and colleagues from Germany, France and Singapore provide evidence.

As they explain, compared to a headbite, a slight overbite makes it easier to make these sounds: people with an overbite only need two thirds of muscle strength, biomechanical computer simulations show. In addition, the probability of generating these sounds accidentally while articulating other sounds increases, reports study author Balthasar Bickel. The scientists also analyzed the Indo-European language area, which stretches from Iceland to India: "We have precise data on which preparation techniques and eating habits have developed when and where," explains Bickel. From this he derives predictions as to when the Labiodentals could have appeared in which languages.

At the same time, the scientists used knowledge of the relationships between the languages ​​to create a family tree of the development of sounds in the Indo-European languages. "We had good calibration points thanks to historical documents that grammarians recorded the pronunciation," explains Bickel. As an example, he cites 2500-year-old Sanskrit pronunciation records.

The biology of speech

The team was able to model when sounds like "F" prevailed in the individual languages. The predictions about nutrition and the modeled family tree about pronunciation provided a very good agreement and thus an indication of the role of nutrition on sound development.

"In Europe in particular, we have seen a drastic increase in Labiodentals in the last two millennia, which can be traced back to the increasing spread of processed, softer food and which was further driven by the introduction of industrial milling processes," summarizes co-author Steve Moran.

Of course, the position of the teeth is only one of many factors that shape pronunciation. Whether a sound prevails also depends, for example, on the prestige of the speaker and the imitation by others. The methodology established in the study adds a new perspective: "Language is traditionally assigned to the humanities," emphasizes Bickel. He hopes that the study will have a signaling effect that language should also be viewed as a biological fact.