EARTH Magazine: Of Temperature and Tone - Has Climate Shaped Human Languages

EARTH Magazine

From EARTH Magazine, 04/23/2015  --  We have known for a long time that an environment can influence the vocalizations of animals. Scientists at the Max Plank Institute for Psycholinguistics wanted to see if a similar correlation between environment and language could be demonstrated for humans.

In a new study, described this month in EARTH Magazine, the geography of tonal languages - those using variations in pitch to distinguish distinct meanings for the same word - was plotted relative to non-tonal languages. The results revealed a potential correlation between warmer, more humid climates and tonal language. This hypothesis, presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, would suggest that a cooler, drier climate could inhibit evolution of a more complex tonal language. 

While natural analogues in the animal kingdom exist, not all linguists are convinced this correlation is specifically related to climatic variations. Learn more about this study and the emerging field of geo-phonetics in the May issue of EARTH Magazine:

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