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Home / Science / Have softer foods given us the F-word? : The salt: NPR

Have softer foods given us the F-word? : The salt: NPR



A biomechanical model for producing an "f" sound with an overbite (left) compared to an edge-to-edge bite (right). Some linguists argue that the emergence of softer foods thousands of years ago has led to changes in bite patterns and eventually to more frequent use of sounds such as "f" and "v" in human language.

Scott Moisik


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Scott Moisik

A biomechanical model for creating an "f" sound with an overbite (left) compared to an edge-to-edge bite (right). Some linguists argue that the emergence of softer foods thousands of years ago has led to changes in bite patterns and eventually to more frequent use of sounds such as "f" and "v" in human language.

Scott Moisik

Processed foods are blamed for many things. But this week, a group of linguists has reached a whole new level.

To put it bluntly, they argue that the invention of processed foods such as yogurt and porridge was the F-word thousands of years ago. Many F words. More specifically, the researchers believe that softer eating has led to the tones "f" and "v" being used more frequently in human languages. (Other language experts are skeptical, more on that later.)

According to the new theory, food influenced language through a complex chain of events.

First, agriculture and early forms of food processing such as fermentation were added, providing more chewable meals. People did not depend so much on hard meat, roots and berries. And so freshly spoiled people had another bite. Their teeth were no longer so worn, and they retained more of the natural overbite with which they were born, with the teeth of the upper jaw overlapping the lower teeth.

This physical arrangement of the teeth, in turn, made it easier for humans to create "labiodental fricative" sounds, such as "f" and "v", where the upper teeth must press against the lower lip.

"This change in the bite paves the way for labiodents in the spoken languages," says Damián Blasi, linguist at the University of Zurich. He spoke during a teleconference with reporters organized by the journal Science which published the new research.

According to Blasi, people with an overbite were more likely to hear "f" and "f" "v". Then the normal processes of language development took over. These slips sometimes caught and became the standard of human languages. "That does not mean that Labiodentals will emerge in all languages," says Steven Moran, another researcher at the University of Zurich. "It does mean, however, that the likelihood of creating labiodals will increase slightly over time."

Scientists have gathered evidence for their theory over the past five years. It was not easy. "The biggest obstacle, to put it simply, was that the linguistic behavior is not petrified," says Blasi. There are no audio recordings of conversations in the kitchens of ancient Mesopotamia.

However, they found evidence to support every step in their hypothetical chain of events. For example, there are indications that hunter-gatherers have lost their overbite. Computer simulations of the human jaw indicate that it requires more muscular effort to produce the "f" and "w" sounds you do not have this overbite, so it's understandable that hunters and crooks would not be inclined to to make these sounds.

The researchers studied the evolution of the Indo-European language family. Generations of linguists have attempted to reconstruct ancient versions of these languages, and in fact we have found that it is very likely for these language groups that the labiodals would not appear parallel to [the] until the Bronze Age] Development of new methods for food processing, "says Blasi.

The linguists also found that labiodental sounds are less common in the languages ​​of contemporary hunter-gatherer communities in Greenland, Southern Africa, and Australia, and sometimes become more prevalent where the sounds are in words borrowed from other languages.

In conclusion, the researchers are confident in their theory, and they believe that this study of "f" and "v" tones could shift the entire field of linguistics. [19659022] Food for thought: Meat-based diet makes us smarter “/>

According to Balthasar Bick el from the University of Zurich, another co-author of the study, language is usually considered a purely cultural phenomenon. "If you think about it, that's a bit strange," he says. "We produce it with our bodies, mostly with the mouth, but as in the sign language, with our hands and other gestures." It is obvious that biology influences the language.

Other linguists are fascinated, but less convinced. "I think the pieces are reasonable," says Alan Yu, a linguist at the University of Chicago. But the whole story seems speculative to him. "There are just a few too many gaps to believe that this is a true link between dietary changes and language," he says. The researchers did not look at the languages ​​of America's hunter-gatherers, he says, some of them use Labi Valley sounds that are not from European languages.

Salikoko Mufwene, also at the University of Chicago, expressed his own language doubt In an e-mail to NPR, he wrote that human language flourished for thousands of years before the emergence of agricultural and softer food. "It is therefore surprising that people have been waiting until they produce labio-dental fricatives."

Anthropologist Shara Bailey of New York University, on the other hand, found the new study thought-provoking. "I like this!" She says. "It makes me think about something I did not think about."

Bailey's research focuses on the development of the human jaw. "I can actually get my students to test some of these hypotheses by looking at fossil hominids or looking at hunters and gatherers, and if you inspire other people to do their own experiments, I think that's a good thing!"


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