A new study suggests that the way a language is developed might have something to do with the climate and terrain of the associated area. The study focused on more than 600 world languages in order to make the discovery.
In the past, vocalizations from various animals have been shown to have been manipulated by their surrounding environment. For instance, birds typically sing at higher pitches so that they are not drowned out by urban noise. But in open space, birds tend to produce lower pitches that can be detected across a wider area.
The phenomenon is known as acoustic adaptation, and it is seen throughout the animal kingdom. Now, new research shows that it might affect humans as well.
Scientists say that the effect that acoustic adaptation has on human language is still unclear. However, scientists have started studying the idea in humans by focusing on 633 languages worldwide and combining the aspects of those languages with ecological and climatic information about the regions where these languages developed.
In order to ensure accuracy, the study excluded languages with a strong international presence, such as English, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. This way, only languages that are commonly restricted to specific geographic regions were studied.
As the scientists conducted their studies, a pattern somewhat emerged. Languages in hotter and heavily forested areas, such as the tropics, usually featured lower frequencies and fewer distinctive consonants. Meanwhile, languages derived from regions that are colder, drier and more mountainous featured the use of more consonants, and they were generally higher in pitch.
Researchers found that ecological and climatic variables overall accounted for roughly 25% of a language’s development. The theory is that “tropical” languages need their sound to travel further, so they develop a lower pitch. But in mountainous regions, there is less sound disruption, meaning that higher-pitched languages can thrive.
Scientists say that they will continue to study the issue in order to discover more trends about human languages. For now, it’s quite amazing to think that climate might have had a major impact on how humans communicate to this very day.