Language focus | 14.06.2013

Language on high

It has long been understood that environment can have an effect on the vocabulary of a language, the most simplistic example being a language evolving in a landlocked environment having little use for words describing tides.

However, a new study published in the June 12 edition of PLOS ONE shows that the conditions in which a language forms can also have an effect on the way it sounds.

In spoken language, ejective consonants are voiceless consonants that are pronounced with a closure of the glottis. These occur in about 20% of languages around the world, and research now shows that of these, 87% originated in areas of high elevation (more than 1500 meters above sea level) and did so independently on different continents.

It is speculated that this correlation is due to air pressure, which is much less at high altitudes. Researchers believe that these sounds are easier to produce with lower air pressures, which has in turn lead high altitude languages from around the world to develop in such similar sounding ways.

Source: Belfast Telegraph

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