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Africa was cradle of all languages?
Published on 15 Apr. 2011 11:24 PM IST
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A sophisticated analysis of hundreds of languages has helped researchers trace back their beginnings to the same place and the same time in Africa.
They pinpointed the time as around 150,000 years ago. This was when cave art - one of the earliest forms of communication - began.
The early man was then believed to have left Africa around 80,000 years ago. Researchers believe that language may have been one of the “tools” that boosted humanity and helped colonise the whole planet, the journal Science reports.
The analysis, which used the World Atlas of Language Structure as the main resource, relies on the theory that older civilisations have picked up more linguistic diversity as they age - from genes to language. It then used this to extrapolate the origins of language to Africa. “We think that this language was a stepping stone in civilisation which led to better coordination and cooperation that might have led us to expand,” said Quentin Atkinson at the University of Auckland and Oxford University, according to the Telegraph.
Atkinson analysed 504 languages to see how many phonemes - particular sounds - they contained. To his surprise he found a direct correlation between the age of the civilisation and the number of phonemes in its language.
So while many African languages had more than 100 phonemes, Hawaiian language had as few as 13. English, French and German had about 45 each.
In general, the areas of the globe that were most recently colonised incorporate fewer phonemes into the local languages whereas the areas that have hosted human life for millennia still use the most phonemes, the report concluded.

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