Monolingual Neanderthals

This post, is, of course, not particularly serious, even though the premise might be an interesting one to see better stats on. It all centers on this article out of the Telegraph last month. Go ahead — read it. It’s short. But if you don’t want to, the basic gist is that the UK made language classes optional, and British school children don’t seem to really be all that interested in taking foreign language classes if they’re not required. Enrollments have dropped almost by half in the past 10 years to the point where the average number of languages spoken by Brits today is: 1.0. Since I assume few Brits speak fewer than one languages, this means the entire country is almost exactingly monolingual.  What’s doubly interesting to me is that most of Europe isn’t much better. The continental average: 1.4. Now, I’m going to take a wild, wild leap here, and wonder about the possible connection to other phenomena.

Continue reading “Monolingual Neanderthals”

I was wrong

In the last post I made, I gave some of my thoughts on Quentin Atkinson’s Science paper earlier this year, where he demonstrates that evidence of human migration patterns is still available in the world’s languages if you squint right.  His mechanism works on something called the founder effect, which, in terms of evolutionary genetics,  provides that new, small offshoot populations will exhibit less genetic diversity than large populations.  He assumes the same thing applies to language, and I disagreed.  Instead I argued that mechanisms of language contact (which have been observed reducing phoneme counts) would better account for his results, with some possibility that Homo sapiens may have had simplifying linguistic contact with other hominids.

Wellll… it turns out I might have been wrong on both counts.   Continue reading “I was wrong”

Traces of Pidgins Past?

palatal consonants
Various palatal consonants — some of the less usual speech sounds

In April of this year, evolutionary anthropologist turned psychologist, Quentin Atkinson, had a paper in Science titled, “Phonemic Diversity Supports a Serial Founder Effect Model of Language Expansion from Africa.” In it, he provided a mathematical evaluation of phoneme counts (phonemes are the sounds that make up speech — vowels and consonants) from a selection of the world’s languages, indicating that the number of phonemes decreases the further you get from Africa along previously proposed human migration routes. That is, languges with the highest phoneme counts were in Sub-Saharan Africa, and languages with the lowest phoneme counts were in South America and the South Pacific. Continue reading “Traces of Pidgins Past?”