Diet-induced changes favor innovation in speech sounds

EurekAlert! | 3/18/2019 | Staff
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Diet-induced changes in the human bite resulted in new sounds such as "f" in languages all over the world, a study by an international team led by researchers at the University of Zurich has shown. The findings contradict the theory that the range of human sounds has remained fixed throughout human history.

Human speech is incredibly diverse, ranging from ubiquitous sounds like "m" and "a" to the rare click consonants in some languages of Southern Africa. This range of sounds is generally thought to have been established with the emergence of the Homo sapiens around 300,000 years ago. A study by an international group headed up by scientists at the University of Zurich and involving researchers at two Max Planck Institutes, the University of Lyon and Nanyang Technological University Singapore now sheds new light on the evolution of spoken language. The study shows that sounds such as "f" and "v", both common in many modern languages, are a relatively recent development that was brought about by diet-induced changes in the human bite.

Teeth - Humans - Bite - Harder - Diet

While the teeth of humans used to meet in an edge-to-edge bite due to their harder and tougher diet at the time, more recent softer foods allowed modern humans to retain the juvenile overbite that had previously disappeared by adulthood, with the upper teeth slightly more in front than the lower teeth. This shift led to the rise of a new class of speech sounds now found in half of the world's languages: labiodentals, or sounds made by touching the lower lip to the upper teeth, for example when pronouncing the letter "f".

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