A new study suggests that labiodental sounds like "f" and "v" are included in about half of the world's languages due to a change in our diet that relies on softer foods.
"We now have a strong case to think that sounds like the labiodentals are surprisingly recent in human history", Damian Blasi, a linguistics researcher at the University of Zurich who led the study, told The Telegraph. Although they were born with an overbite, it evolved to an edge-to-edge bite due to the harder and tougher diet they consumed. Researchers admitted that there is no guarantee of changes in languages, but they made it clear that these changes actually helped humans to deliver soft sounds very easily.
Moran's team based its conclusion on insights, data and methods from multiple branches of science, including biological anthropology, phonetics and historical linguistics.
The research study by Blasi and his collaborators from France, Germany, the Netherlands and Russian Federation will appear in the U.S. journal Science on Friday. The team, which used biomechanical computer models that copied human speech, discovered that softer foods enabled humans to keep their overbite, which would place the upper teeth a little bit in front of the lower teeth.
You can test this out for yourself by aligning your teeth edge to edge and trying to make an "f" sound, the researchers said. It's much more hard.
The difference between the edge-to-edge bite and a modern overbite
The new research has indicated that the use of labiodental sounds - which are produced by touching the lower lip to the upper teeth - increased dramatically only over the past 3,000 to 6,000 years in parallel with the rise of food processing, milling and softer food. The sounds we utter are also shaped, literally, by the placement of our jaw - and that is influenced by how we chew our food, researchers say in a report released Thursday, March 14, 2019, in the journal Science. The study concluded by saying, "Our findings reveal that the transition from prehistoric foragers to contemporary societies has had an impact on the human speech apparatus, and therefore on our species' main mode of communication and social differentiation: spoken language". Human sound systems are shaped by post Neolithic changes in bite configuration.
The researchers looked closely at 52 languages from what is called the Indo-European language group - including dialects spoken from Iceland to India - and charted how the "f" and "v" sounds appeared in a rising number of languages over time.
Human speech is incredibly diverse, ranging from ubiquitous sounds like "m" and "a" to the rare click consonants in some languages of Southern Africa. The spread of pottery for preserving food, especially as agriculture was introduced, is also a key part of the softer foods diet.
"Our results shed light on complex causal links between cultural practices, human biology and language", says Balthasar Bickel, project leader and UZH professor. They analyzed a database of roughly 2,000 languages - more than a quarter of languages in existence today - to identify which sounds were more and less frequently used, and where.