Study finds 'mother of all languages'
All the world's languages may date back to a single 'mother tongue' spoken in pre-historic Africa, according to new research.
The study suggests that between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago humans spoke in a single dialect that proved the catalyst for human civilisation.
The report by Dr Quentin Atkinson from The University of Auckland in New Zealand is based on phonemes - distinct sounds such as vowels and consonants that make up language.
He analysed the number of phonemes found in 504 world languages, and hypothesized that languages with the most phonemes were the oldest. Also, the dialects furthest away from the 'mother tongue' were found to be less complicated.
The study found that some of Africa's languages (which feature clicks) have over a 100 phonemes, while Hawaiian - spoken on the furthest point on the migration route out of Africa, only has 13. In short, the further away from Africa you get, the fewer phonemes are found.
Effectively then, Dr. Atkinson argues that the sub-Saharan region of Africa is the cradle of all human language.
This fits with what scientists call the 'Out of Africa' theory - that early humans evolved only in this region, then migrated to the rest of the world around 70,000- 50,000 years ago, the period mentioned in the study.
"It was the catalyst that spurred the human expansion that we all are a product of," Dr. Atkinson told the Wall Street Journal.
During this time there were sudden, dramatic advances in human behaviour, with our ancestors creating cave art and making sophisticated hunting tools out of bone. Experts argue that these advances were the result of language, which prompted more abstract thinking.
The study also suggests that while language began to be spread throughout the world during this period, humans may have actually begun communicating verbally over many years earlier.
Professor Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist at Oxford University told The Mail that based on this study, the origin of language could now be pushed back to between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago.