Africa was cradle of all languages

Africa was cradle of all languages

Whether it’s English, Bengali, Hindi or Japanese, every language in the world evolved from a single prehistoric “mother tongue” first spoken in Africa tens of thousands of years ago, a new study has claimed.

Scientists have analysed more than 500 languages and found evidence that every language can be traced back to a long-forgotten dialect spoken by our Stone Age ancestors in the African continent.

The findings don’t just pinpoint the origin of language to Africa. They also show that speech evolved at least 100,000 years ago, far earlier than previously thought, the Daily Mail reported.

There is now compelling evidence that the first modern humans evolved in Africa around 200,000 to 150,000 years ago. And, around 70,000 years ago, early humans began to migrate from Africa eventually spreading around the rest of the world.

Some have argued that language evolved independently in different parts of the world, while others say it evolved just once, and that all languages are descended from a single ancestral mother tongue.

Now, a team led by Dr Quentin Atkinson of Queensland University has come up with fascinating evidence for a single African origin of language—he counted the number of distinct sounds, or phonemes, used in some 504 languages worldwide and charted them on a map.

The number of sounds varies hugely from language to language. English, for instance has around 45 sounds, some languages in South America have fewer than 15, while the San bushmen of South Africa use a staggering 200.

Dr Atkinson found that the number of distinct sounds in a language tends to increase the closer it is to subSaharan Africa. He argues these differences reflect migration patterns of our ancestors when they left Africa 70,000 years ago.

Languages change as they are handed down from generation to generation. In a large population, languages are likely to be relatively stable —simply because there are more people to remember what previous generations did, he says.

But in a smaller population — such as a splinter group that sets off to find a new home elsewhere—there are more chances that languages will change quickly and that sounds will be lost from generation to generation.

The findings have been published in the Science journal.