Throughout centuries linguist
s have examined a host of components within language
to try to search its roots out and place its origins. While language is nearly as old as the people who speak it few linguistic remains have been found that would date back further than 7,000-10,000 years. A new study conducted by psychologist Quentin Atkinson of the University of Auckland and published in the journal Science
divides language into its smallest components, phoneme
s (phoneme is one of the set of speech sounds in any given language that serve to distinguish one word from another), in attempts to clarify the birthplace of speech. His findings may well represent a breakthrough in historical linguistics
, as they reconstruct the potential evolution
of language before 10,000 years ago.
Dr. Atkinson’s study applies a mathematical model to divide 504 languages around the world according to their distance from Africa
(from where human beings dispersed 50,000 years ago and then spread throughout the globe) and their phonemic variation. If the point of the psychologist was correct, then phonemic variation like genetic variation would decrease the further populations from their African source.
Such a system was noted: African languages showed the most variety, with some click-using languages having upwards of 100 distinct phonemes, while more distant points like South America and the islands of the Pacific showed the least between 10 and 30.