Human diet changes influenced consonant prevalence distribution in languages

IMAGE: Biomechanical modeling shows that labiodental sounds like "f " are easier to produce (and to accidentally arise) under overbite and overjet (A) than under the edge-to-edge bite (B) that prevailed before...

Image credit: 
University of Zurich

Labiodental sounds, such as F and V, have been known to be rarely met in hunter-gatherer languages. To understand how this has occurred, the authors undertook a massive statistical inquiry. 2,400 languages were analyzed, and a biomechanical model of mouth and lip movements was created.

The following explanation was put forth - when transition from hunter-gatherer society to agriculture and animal husbandry happens, diets also undergo major changes; specifically, foods become softer. This leads to changes in bite configuration and thus facilitates easier pronunciation of labiodentals.

Credit: 
Kazan Federal University