Speaking the f and v sounds was enabled by eating soft foods

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Speaking the f and v sounds was enabled by eating soft foods

#1  Postby lpetrich » May 24, 2019 8:05 am

Humans couldn't pronounce 'f' and 'v' sounds before farming developed | New Scientist noting Human sound systems are shaped by post-Neolithic changes in bite configuration | Science
From Science magazine:

In 1985, the linguist Charles Hockett proposed that the use of teeth and jaws as tools in hunter-gatherer populations makes consonants produced with lower lip and upper teeth (“f” and “v” sounds) hard to produce. He thus conjectured that these sounds were a recent innovation in human language. Blasi et al. combined paleoanthropology, speech sciences, historical linguistics, and methods from evolutionary biology to provide evidence for a Neolithic global change in the sound systems of the world's languages. Spoken languages have thus been shaped by changes in the human bite configuration owing to changes in dietary and behavioral practices since the Neolithic.

We are born with an overbite. But the tough foods eaten by our Paleolithic (foraging) ancestors made us do a lot of jaw exercise, and that gave us an edge-to-edge bite in adulthood. But in the places with Neolithic (farming) technology or later, the softer foods that that technology made possible made that exercise less necessary, giving us an overbite in adulthood.

Making a labiodental requires about 30% less muscle effort with a typical overbite than with edge-to-edge front teeth, and one finds that people recently with Paleolithic technology have only 1/4 the likelihood of labiodentals than people with Neolithic technology and later.

This is also evident in the history of language families with long histories, like Indo-European. Labiodentals developed in several of the IE descendant languages, but the ancestral IE language is reconstructed as having none. In particular, /f/, as linguists like to write it, developed in ancestral Germanic, Latin, and medieval / modern Greek. I looked elsewhere and found a lack of the sound in several other families' ancestors, despite some of their descendants having it. I checked Semitic, Uralic, Turkic, Dravidian, Sino-Tibetan, Austroasiatic, Austronesian, Bantu, Pama-Nyungan, Uto-Aztecan, Algonquian, Iroquoian, and Eskimo-Aleut.
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Re: Speaking the f and v sounds was enabled by eating soft foods

#2  Postby Svartalf » May 24, 2019 9:02 am

sounds weird, hard to believe.
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Re: Speaking the f and v sounds was enabled by eating soft foods

#3  Postby tuco » May 24, 2019 10:03 am

Apparently, the French ate something weird too with regards to 'h' :P
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Re: Speaking the f and v sounds was enabled by eating soft foods

#4  Postby Svartalf » May 24, 2019 2:13 pm

I'll hound you all the way to Hell :p
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