Have you ever wondered where the languages you speak come from?
For Tamil and Mandarin speakers, you might be tempted to think of India or China, but you need to think further back.
Turns out every single language — all 6000 of them — came from a single “mother tongue”, the original language spoken in Africa over 50,000 years ago.
Researcher Quentin Atkinson from the University of Auckland in New Zealand came up with this idea and its one that is controversial.
Other linguists believe that languages have evolved independently of each other in various parts of the world.
But Atkinson has strong evidence to back up his claims. The first of which is, the fact that all modern humans did, in fact, originate from Africa.
It turns out that during the migration out of Africa, the first humans carried their language with them as the populated the globe.
The second evidence is when Atkinson analysed the world’s major languages and identified how many ‘phonemes’ or distinct sounds each of them contains.
Take a look at the map below.
Source: Daily Mail
His research showed that the closer a language is to Africa, the more phonemes it has.
Phonemes are distinct units of unique sounds that when combined, form the words in a language’s vocabulary. Every language or particular dialect will have their own distinct group of phonemes.
The English language has 46 unique sounds while the San Bushmen of South Africa has a staggering 200 unique sounds!
Part of them comprises of the clicks that are still common to many of today’s African dialects.
Incidentally, the further a language is from Africa, the fewer phonemes it has as well. As language evolved during migration, populations began adopting languages with smaller and smaller amounts of unique sounds.
The reason this happened, is because sounds tend to get lost from generation to generation.
In larger populations, more people are able to remember these sounds, but when a small group journeys to find a new place, they lose some of these sounds, forming new languages.
Based on the map, you’ll see that Mandarin has 32 unique sounds. Geographically speaking, it should share roughly the same number with Indian languages followed by Standard Malay.
As the earliest settlers of North and South Africa arrived, the number of phonemes have already dwindled down to 11.
Why not book a trip to Africa to reconnect with your roots?