16 September 2016 – In a study that shatters a cornerstone concept in linguistics, an analysis of nearly two-thirds of the world’s languages shows that humans tend to use the same sounds for common objects and ideas, no matter what language they’re speaking.
Published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 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. Said Morten H. Christiansen, professor of psychology and director of Cornell’s Cognitive Neuroscience Lab:
“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 don’t know what it is, but we know it’s there.”
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