On geographic determinism and nasal vowels in French

Dec 30, 2011 by

In a recent post, I discussed one example of geographic determinism applied to linguistic typology. The thinking behind geographic determinism is as follows: certain kinds of terrain or weather favor certain structural features in...

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Linguistic diversity in Africa and Europe

Jun 16, 2011 by

As can be seen from the map below, Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the world’s hotbeds of linguistic diversity. Indeed, the Niger-Congo language family, spoken in the largest part of Sub-Saharan Africa, is the largest language...

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Which language is the oldest?

Apr 22, 2011 by

I hear this question a lot, or claims that this or that language is “the oldest”. Recently, this question has come up again in connection with the research on the birthplace of human language, published recently in Science...

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Where was human language born?

Apr 15, 2011 by

Anthropologists and geneticists alike believe that modern humans originated in Africa. But what about human language? Did it originate in Africa too? Was it “born” only once? And can we be more precise about where in...

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Languages and genes don’t always match — part 2

Feb 5, 2011 by

In the previous posting, I noted that the commonly held assumption that if the languages of two groups are related, the peoples must be related as well doesn’t always hold. As you can see from the chart below, the genetic tree...

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Ultrasound to study human sounds

Dec 6, 2010 by

Gone are the days when linguists simply listened to speakers of exotic languages, trying to figure out what it is they’re hearing. Today, new technologies are being used to study and document human speech sounds. From digital...

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