Biologist Dr. Quentin D. Atkinson from the University of Auckland in New Zealand recently published an article in the journal science detailing how phonetic clues imply that modern human language originated in Southern Western Africa. By looking at phonemes (the consonants, vowels and tones that are the simplest elements of language) and not words, Dr. Atkinson has found an interesting pattern in 500 languages spoken around the world. The pattern shows that a language area uses fewer phonemes the farther that early humans had to travel from Africa to reach it. For instance, some of the click-using languages of Africa have more than 100 phonemes, while regions toward the far end of the human migration route out of Africa, such as Hawaii, only has 13.
While some linguist are skeptical about any research because it seemingly dates the development of language further back than previously established, many are receptive to his research. As noted by fellow linguist Donald A. Ringe of the University of Pennsylvania, “it’s too early to tell if Atkinson’s idea is correct, but if so, it’s one of the most interesting articles in historical linguistics that I’ve seen in a decade.”
Dr. Atkinson’s findings are all the more convincing since it have long been established that Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert belong to one of the earliest branches of the genetic tree and that the human race as we know it began in Africa.
While most of us in the western world are often exposed to images of Africa as being the poor, destitute continent in need of help, we often forget the rich history the continent has to offer. Findings like Dr. Atkinson’s helps to reposition the continent as being a place filled with liveliness and a rich history.
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