Phonetic Clues Hint Language Is Africa-Born

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Phonetic Clues Hint Language Is Africa-Born

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apr 14, 2011, 10:19pm

Interesting stuff...

Anyone know more about this?

apr 15, 2011, 8:48am

apr 15, 2011, 5:33pm

>1 timspalding:
Don't know but wish I did. Am passing on the link to some phonology colleagues.

apr 15, 2011, 5:54pm

Seems to me like a classic example of the devil being in the details, and a bitch to verify.

apr 15, 2011, 6:47pm

The theory sounds reasonable to me, but I bet some expert could point to some languages that don't fit.

apr 15, 2011, 7:03pm

A scholarly critique was posted on this thread:

apr 16, 2011, 5:07pm

Mark Liberman posted about it today over at Language Log:

apr 16, 2011, 5:55pm

8> I love it when a scholarly treatment quotes Dave Berry.

apr 17, 2011, 4:45pm

A Dave Barry reference? Says something about how "scholarly" it's likely to be. I don't need to follow the link. A: the topic alone warns me off. B: newspaper accounts are usually far from "scholarly". C: I've seen this mauled by actual scholars elsewhere.
Given all that, yes, since early ancesters of ours seem to have originated there, the origins of human speech likely did, too. This is NOT something actual evidence of is going to turn up short of the invention of a time machine. It's not like tracing DNA around the world.

apr 17, 2011, 8:27pm

10> You're missing out, then. He's doing a scholarly mauling of the mathematical bases for the notion, with an appropriate joke, drawn from Dave Barry, to close (not as part of the real discussion). I found it rather more interesting than the original proposal...but then, I'm a math and probability geek as much as a language one.

apr 18, 2011, 3:57am

10> Mark Liberman is a well-known academic. He's Trustee Professor of Phonetics in the Department of Linguistics, and a professor in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania.

I think I'd be prepared to go out on a limb and dare call him an "actual scholar".

apr 18, 2011, 9:58am

What the others said. Language Log isn't a newspaper source, it's an academic blog.

apr 19, 2011, 8:30pm

I don't buy the methodology of this. I've commented here (comment no.29). There isn't any absolute number of phonemes in a language - it's a matter of analysis, with many judgement calls. The number will be quite parsimonious in languages that have already been analysed for the purposes of creating an alphabet. I don't know anything about Polynesian languages but if there really are so few phonemes, something else (syllable structure?) must be doing a lot of work instead.

apr 20, 2011, 6:40pm

Just because there's judgment calls about the number of phonemes in a language, doesn't mean the concept of counting the number of phonemes in a language is a meaningless one. One might look at Hawaiian, and come up with 9 consonants or 10, instead of the standard 8, but never 22.

apr 20, 2011, 6:41pm

It's also significant that the counting wasn't done by the author.

apr 20, 2011, 7:32pm

16> But the observation that languages that are studied more (which tend to be the larger ones) are likely to have more identified phonemes is also interesting.

apr 20, 2011, 8:18pm

#17: But that's not true; as this study points out, African languages tend to have the most phonemes, not the Indo-European languages.