Humans use similar sounds for common words in more than 6,000 languages

Humans use similar sounds for common words in more than 6,000 languagesAs a part of the study, an analysis of nearly two-thirds of the worlds languages shows that humans tend to use the same sounds for common objects and ideas, no matter what language theyre speaking.

The research demonstrates a robust statistical relationship between certain basic concepts from body parts to familial relationships and aspects of the natural world- and the sounds humans around the world use to describe them.

Researcher Morten H. Christiansen said, These sound symbolic patterns show up again and again across the world, independent of the geographical dispersal of humans and independent of language lineage. There does seem to be something about the human condition that leads to these patterns. We dont know what it is, but we know its there.

For example, in most languages, the word for nose is likely to include the sounds neh or the oo sound, as in ooze. The word for tongue is likely to have l (as in langue in French). Leaf is likely to include the sounds b, p or l. Sand will probably use the sound s.The words for red and round are likely to include the r sound.

It doesnt mean all words have these sounds, but the relationship is much stronger than wed expect by chance, Christiansen said.
The associations were particularly strong for words that described body parts. We didnt quite expect that, he said.

The team also found certain words are likely to avoid certain sounds. This was especially true for pronouns.
For example, words for I are unlikely to include sounds involving u, p, b, t, s, r and l. You is unlikely to include sounds involving u, o, p, t, d, q, s, r and l.

Christiansen with her team analyzed 40-100 basic vocabulary words in 62 percent of the worlds more than 6,000 current languages and 85 percent of its linguistic lineages.

The words included pronouns, body parts and properties (small, full), verbs that describe motion and nouns that describe natural phenomena (star, fish).

They found a considerable proportion of the 100 basic vocabulary words have a strong association with specific kinds of human speech sounds. The studys results are conservative, the actual number of sound symbolism patterns may, in fact be even greater. Christiansen said, We wanted to show findings that we can really stand behind.

The findings challenge one of the most basic concepts in linguistics, the century-old idea that the relationship between a sound of a word and its meaning is arbitrary.

In the past 20 years, language scientists have seen glimmers of evidence that arbitrariness isnt necessarily an iron-clad rule.

For example, studies have shown words for small objects in a variety of languages are likely to contain high-pitched sounds. But until now, the research has looked only at specific word/sound relationships or small sets of languages.

People havent been able to show whether sound symbolism is really something more pervasive throughout languages all over the world. And this is the first time anyone has been able to show that at such a scale, Christiansen said.

The researchers dont know why humans tend to use the same sounds across languages to describe basic objects and ideas.

But Christiansen notes these concepts are important in all languages, and children are likely to learn these words early in life.

Perhaps these signals help nudge kids into acquiring language. Likely it has something to do with the human mind or brain, our ways of interacting, or signals we use when we learn or process language. Thats a key question for future research, she concluded.

Published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
See also:
Leave a comment
TOP Video
  • Latest
  • Read
  • Commented
Calendar Content
«    February 2017    »