Welcome, Guest

 or  Register

The rise of farming altered our bite and changed how people talk

Humankind’s gift of gab is not set in stone, and farming could help to explain why.
Over the last 6,000 years or so, farming societies increasingly have substituted processed dairy and grain products for tougher-to-chew game meat and wild plants common in hunter-gatherer diets. Switching to those diets of softer, processed foods altered people’s jaw structure over time, rendering certain sounds like “f” and “v” easier to utter, and changing languages worldwide, scientists contend.

People who regularly chew tough foods such as game meat experience a jaw shift that removes a slight overbite from childhood. But individuals who grow up eating softer foods retain that overbite into adulthood, say comparative linguist Damián Blasi of the University of Zurich and his colleagues. Computer simulations suggest that adults with an overbite are better able to produce certain sounds that require touching the lower lip to the upper teeth, the researchers report in the March 15 Science.
Linguists classify those speech sounds, found in about half of the world’s languages, as labiodentals. And when Blasi and his team reconstructed language change over time among Indo-European tongues (SN: 11/25/17, p. 16), currently spoken from Iceland to India, the researchers found that the likelihood of using labiodentals in those languages rose substantially over the past 6,000 to 7,000 years. That was especially true when foods such as milled grains and dairy products started appearing (SN: 2/1/03, p. 67).
“Labiodental sounds emerged recently in our species, and appear more frequently in populations with long traditions of eating soft foods,” Blasi said at a March 12 telephone news conference.

Yale University linguist Claire Bowern, who did not participate in the new study, agrees. If certain sounds become easier to pronounce, the odds of those sounds appearing in words increases. But changes in how words are actually spoken still may not happen, Bowern says. So evidence of labiodentals’ rapid incorporation into many languages comes as a surprise, she says.

Linguists traditionally have thought that humans have always been capable of making all sounds used in the roughly 7,000 languages still spoken today. Crucial elements of speech anatomy, such as a larynx, or voice box, positioned low in the neck, evolved in now-extinct Homo species by 500,000 years ago. Homo sapiens thus emerged around 300,000 years ago biologically prepared to talk.

Then in 1985, linguist Charles Hockett argued that hunter-gatherer languages virtually never include labiodental sounds. That’s because by young adulthood, heavy tooth wear from intense chewing of tough foods triggers dental changes that move the upper teeth directly on top of the lower teeth, he contended.

Cite: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/rise...eople-talk

The organs of speech are the same for all people, or so linguists have typically assumed. But it turns out that may not be true—in fact, what you eat can change how you talk.
The conventional wisdom held in the field of historical linguistics is the vocal apparatus of human beings has remained fixed since the emergence of Homo sapiens some 200,000 years ago. As a consequence, all humans, both ancient and modern peoples, possess the same basic capacity to produce speech sounds. But recent evidence from several studies in paleoanthropology has upended these assumptions by suggesting the way we eat can actually alter jaw anatomy. And according to research just published in Science, the consequences for the way we speak have been profound.

The lead authors of the study, Damián Blasi and Steven Moran of the University of Zurich along with colleagues, became intrigued by fossil evidence showing the form of the human jaw had changed in our species’s relatively recent evolutionary past. Among hunter–gatherers of the Paleolithic period, adults’ upper and lower teeth aligned to form a flat line, the top ones resting directly on the bottom set. Scientists attribute that configuration primarily to tooth wear brought about by chewing hard foods, such as unmilled grains or seeds. With the advent of agriculture in the post-Neolithic period, however, the upper teeth protruded over and above the lower teeth, presumably due to reduced challenge of consuming soft foods such as porridge and cheese.

These findings suggest not only that the cultural shift that gave rise to agriculture occasioned a shift in human anatomy. It also appears to have introduced new speech sounds known as labiodentals—the “f” and “v,” for instance. Blasi and Moran’s study furnishes evidence that adopting the signature foodstuffs of sedentary society ultimately allowed us to mouth words like “farro” and “verbalize” by raising the lower lip and bringing it into contact with the upper teeth. Their research group conducted biomechanical simulations of this movement using two different virtual jaws to calculate the muscular effort involved. Their results showed, compared with the protruding bites, the flat bite configurations required substantially more effort to produce a labiodental.

Linguists had already established that articulatory effort can affect the fate of a phoneme, so Blasi and Moran’s team speculated that labiodentals would have been less likely to emerge among any population with flat bites, such as Paleolithic humans, or even modern humans who eat harder foods. To test this hypothesis, they analyzed databases of the world’s consonants and showed contemporary hunter–gatherer languages contain only a fraction of the labiodental sounds that food-producer languages do. Of course, food preparation techniques are merely a stand-in for actual bite configurations. To make the link more explicit, the researchers separately analyzed hunter–gatherer societies in Greenland, southern Africa and Australia, where flat bites have been explicitly documented. In line with their hypothesis, results turned up relatively few languages with labiodentals among these populations. When one of these sounds appeared, it mostly was borrowed from other languages.

As a final piece of support for their argument, Blasi and Moran’s team examined sound changes in Indo-European languages over time. They used a nontraditional technique called stochastic character mapping, which calculates the numerical probability a sound existed in a language at a particular point in time. Results showed labiodental sounds were extremely unlikely in almost all branches of Indo-European, until anytime from 6,000 to 4,000 years ago. After that period, which coincides with the introduction of soft foods, the probability of these sounds showed a notable increase.

The take-home message: “we can’t take for granted that spoken languages sound the same today as they did in the distant past,” Moran says. “This means in particular that the set of speech sounds we use has not necessarily remained stable since the emergence of our species, but rather the immense diversity of speech sounds that we find today is the product of a complex interplay of factors involving biological change and cultural evolution.”

Cite: https://www.scientificamerican.com/artic...-language/
Astrochik, Quiet Storm, WNC  likes this!
Reply Share
Great info!!
sivil  likes this!
Reply Share

If I raise flys for scientific study to produce a four legged fly will I be successful if I amputate two legs off of every fly hatched?

Why not?

Chewing difficult food in childhood, in an effort to correct an overbite will NEVER cause that child to spawn an offspring with better teeth. That is not how genetics works.

I did not read the whole wall of text because the first few paragraphs were too filled with ignorance.
Aquarius, sivil, sybdragon  likes this!
Reply Share