Why People in Hot Climates Use Fewer Consonants

Linguists see link between language and weather, landscape
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 6, 2015 6:00 PM CST
How Rain, Heat, and Forests Helped Shape Language
Cultures that developed language in dense forests may use more vowels in order to be understood through trees and hot air, according to two linguists.   (AP Photo/FUNAI)

It turns out there might be a simple reason why native Hawaiians have a word like "luau," whereas mainlanders say words like "spritz" or "Cumberbatch." And its the same reason you'd probably rather sunbathe on Oahu than in Svalbard. Discover Magazine reports two linguists say temperature, rain, foliage, and mountains could be the reason some languages have far more consonants per syllable than others. According to NPR, Ian Maddieson and Christophe Coupé reported their findings Wednesday at the Acoustical Society of America. They say syllables with lots of consonants produce high-frequency sounds that get muddled by wind, wildlife noises, pockets of hot air, and other obstacles. That led to vowel-heavy languages developing in lush, hot climates like rainforests.

Acoustic Adaptation Hypothesis, which has been around for decades, states animals change their calls to get the most out of natural acoustics, Discover reports. “Our research shows a significant pattern of the same kind among human languages,” Maddieson and Coupé state in their presentation. Temperature, rainfall, vegetation, and terrain all seem to play a role in shaping the way a local language sounds. The two linguists studied 628 languages spoken by fewer than 5 million people each. They concluded environment is about 25% of the reason for the differences in consonant prevalence across languages. (Australians might talk funny because their forefathers were drunk.)

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