Mother of all languages traced back to Africa

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Mother of all languages traced back to Africa

#1  Postby natselrox » Apr 18, 2011 6:15 pm

The Science article: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/332/6027/346

NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/scien ... ss&emc=rss

The Economist: http://www.economist.com/node/18557572? ... 2&fsrc=rss

WSJ: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142 ... lenews_wsj

If it's true, it's kinda fitting that Africa was the birthplace of the trait that made us who we are.
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Re: Mother of all languages traced back to Africa

#2  Postby HughMcB » Apr 18, 2011 6:37 pm

If language was developed before humans left Africa (which is widely presumed), then this would be the case, no?
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Re: Mother of all languages traced back to Africa

#3  Postby natselrox » Apr 18, 2011 6:44 pm

Yep. I think, this is just providing evidence to the claim.
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Re: Mother of all languages traced back to Africa

#4  Postby Tyrannical » Apr 18, 2011 7:08 pm

Wasn't there an article just last week claiming that the major language branches aren't related?
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Re: Mother of all languages traced back to Africa

#5  Postby Zwaarddijk » Apr 18, 2011 7:13 pm

The correlation he's shown (wrt something that's called the founder effect) is relatively week. Mark Rosenfelder has some good arguments at http://zompist.wordpress.com/2011/04/16 ... -atkinson/
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Re: Mother of all languages traced back to Africa

#6  Postby Zwaarddijk » Apr 18, 2011 7:15 pm

Tyrannical wrote:Wasn't there an article just last week claiming that the major language branches aren't related?


I wonder what could be used as proof of that. Many Old World language familes do present tantalizing clues that they might be related (but nothing definite enough to establish, say, Indo-Uralic or any of the even more ambitious things like Altaic or Nostratic).
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Re: Mother of all languages traced back to Africa

#7  Postby Tyrannical » Apr 18, 2011 10:53 pm

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v472/n7342/full/472136a.html

Rejection of broad commonality in structure of languages has implications for all sciences.


The least of which is "mother of all languages traced back to Africa", if you can't show the languages are related you can't show a common origin for them all.
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Re: Mother of all languages traced back to Africa

#8  Postby Zwaarddijk » Apr 18, 2011 11:02 pm

Hm, based on the little given in the nature article there, I don't much see that as a problem - related languages often occur in geographical clusters, and thus sprachbund phenomena will make the changes they go through spread through the area, and they will all show similar changes.

Would be interesting to read through those results closer.
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Re: Mother of all languages traced back to Africa

#9  Postby Mr.Samsa » Apr 19, 2011 4:47 am

Zwaarddijk wrote:Hm, based on the little given in the nature article there, I don't much see that as a problem - related languages often occur in geographical clusters, and thus sprachbund phenomena will make the changes they go through spread through the area, and they will all show similar changes.

Would be interesting to read through those results closer.


Indeed, the Nature article is a discussion on the theories of language universals (like Chomsky's Universal Grammar etc), and the study it discusses concludes that these observed universals are not the result of innate, but rather the result of cultural evolution. In other words, the universals exist, they just don't come from where we expected them to come from. As the authors put it:

What the current analyses unexpectedly
reveal is that systematic linkages of traits are likely to be the rare exception
rather than the rule. Linguistic diversity does not seemto be tightly
constrained by universal cognitive factors specialized for language29.
Instead, it is the product of cultural evolution, canalized by the systems
that have evolved during diversification, so that future states lie in an
evolutionary landscape with channels and basins of attraction that are
specific to linguistic lineages.


(Full article here: Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals).

Quentin's article isn't even on language universals though, which is why he didn't even cite this article by Dunn et al. He's looking at specific aspects (or traits) which share similarities across lineages, and by doing so we get an evolutionary tree of languages in the same way we look for common ancestors being species of organisms.

I'm no linguist though, so I might be wrong. However, it would strike me as odd if Quentin's research disagreed with his supervisor Russell Gray's (with Dunn and Greenhill, etc) research mentioned in the Nature article, especially since their offices are just down the hall from each other and that Quentin's article concludes by thanking all the authors of the article mentioned by Tyrannical for their feedback on his article..
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Re: Mother of all languages traced back to Africa

#10  Postby Tyrannical » Apr 19, 2011 11:40 am

What the current analyses unexpectedly
reveal is that systematic linkages of traits are likely to be the rare exception
rather than the rule. Linguistic diversity does not seem to be tightly
constrained by universal cognitive factors specialized for language29.
Instead, it is the product of cultural evolution, canalized by the systems
that have evolved during diversification, so that future states lie in an
evolutionary landscape with channels and basins of attraction that are
specific to linguistic lineages.


Seems a bit of jump in logic to assume that because there is no universal cognitive factors specialized for language between all language lineages, that there is not a universal cognitive factors specialized for language within members of each language lineage.
Why assume that different culture shaped the different language lineages and not different language cognitive factors among lineage members?
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Re: Mother of all languages traced back to Africa

#11  Postby Delvo » Apr 19, 2011 1:11 pm

The idea of a founder effect in languages' numbers of phonemes doesn't make sense like it does in genes. That's not an argument that the distribution of languages with different numbers of phonemes isn't the way they say, but it does mean that such an observation needs some other explanation (like that there's a correlation between phoneme number preference and likelihood of wandering away).

And even if we did have a sound hypothetical explanation for it, I don't trust the alleged phoneme number distribution anyway. First, with no one person having independently evaluated all of those languages, there could be inconsistency in phoneme counting methods, and I don't even find some of the larger numbers plausible without excessive looseness in determining what do and don't count as separate phonemes. Second, the graph they showed doesn't really look much like a linear trend; it looks closer to a random dot cloud with a line through it.
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Re: Mother of all languages traced back to Africa

#12  Postby Someone » Apr 20, 2011 2:47 am

How does this all connect to the old Soviet Union's superiority on this academic subject and improvements in tools for study? I'll be back to see if anyone has found time to figure out what I mean in a few days, and then I'll dig up my own refs if it's not exhausted by an expert (regardless).
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Re: Mother of all languages traced back to Africa

#13  Postby Tyrannical » Apr 20, 2011 2:58 am

Sounds like bunk based on dubious logic :think:

http://johnhawks.net/node/15429
The data in the paper demonstrate a correlation between the phoneme inventory of languages and their geographic region, with areas furthest from Africa (Oceania and South America) having languages that average fewer distinct sounds. As in the case of genetics, this could be explained by other histories besides a recent serial founder effect.

But for historical linguistics, there's a separate problem that deserves some consideration: Why should the origin of languages have had the largest inventory of phonemes? If small populations typically lose phonemic variation, why would sparse hunter-gatherer populations of Africa have built up the largest store of sounds just as they were getting started talking?

Atkinson suggests that African populations have had more time to recover diversity after a bottleneck at the origin of language. That seems an inauspicious suggestion, considering that the genetic model of a founding bottleneck in Africa has taken some serious body blows this year.

Just sayin'...
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