Origins of Indo-European, and naturalness of laryngeals

From: Andrew Jarrette
Message: 46411
Date: 2006-10-18

     I have often been struck by the oddity, to an English speaker, of the laryngeal theory.  It posits the former frequent occurrence of various phonemes articulated at the back of the mouth, often fricative or otherwise articulated with constriction of the throat.  If these are what Proto-Indo-European had in abundance, then this would suggest that PIE probably sounded most similar, of all modern languages, to Arabic.  Which would make me inclined to say that Indo-European arose close to Arabic-speaking territory, perhaps Anatolia on the northern fringes of Mesopotamia.
     But many scholars have pointed out similarities in Indo-European to Finno-Ugric, Uralic, and Sino-Tibetan, as well as Semitic.  If this is the case, it would seem that ultimately all languages on Earth go back to a common ancestor.  But what of the African languages then?  Has anyone ever noticed any similarities between African language families and any of the other Eurasian language families?  If all languages go back to a common ancestor, shouldn't this language have originated in Africa, where all mankind is believed to have originated?  Or did the various language families evolve completely independently at different times, and any resemblances are superficial coincidences?
     If the languages go back to a common ancestor in Africa, I wonder why it is that Indo-European had laryngeals and the Semitic languages have so many guttural sounds.  I have always found that these sounds are unpleasant, reminiscent of choking, clearing the throat, hawking, retching, or coughing, all somewhat undesirable activities done in the throat.  I wonder whether it is fully natural to use these sounds frequently in speech (I realize I am on shaky ground here), or whether they are the products of deliberate introduction or sound changes.  None of the sub-Saharan African languages have these sounds in native words, if I am not mistaken, and are these the original languages, if mankind originated in Africa? (I realize the evolution of language may have begun long after men left Africa for Eurasia).  This leads me to wonder how deliberate language is, and how much of it is simply natural imitation of naturally-occurring sounds.  But then, I suppose I find these sounds unnatural because I am an English speaker, without these sounds in his native inventory.  I remember my strongest impression of French, as I learned it for the first time in elementary school, was the harshness of its uvular /r/.  This was the most alien thing about French from my perspective, and I always found it difficult to reproduce this sound (and still have trouble with it today).  I also had difficulty later with the /x/ of German, Spanish, Russian, and other languages.  Is such  difficulty simply due to unfamiliarity, or are these sounds objectively more difficult to pronounce (like English /T/ and /D/, the "th" sounds)?  English once had velar fricatives, but lost them (got rid of them?), whereas other European languages have reintroduced guttural sounds like uvular trills/approximants/fricatives for former alveolar /r/, and /x/ for earlier /s^/ or /r/ (depending on the language), among other sound developments that produced new guttural sounds.  Is it more natural to produce (what to me are) harsh sounds, or do I just find them harsh and more difficult to produce because I am an English speaker?  And therefore, are the laryngeals of PIE, similar to the Arabic gutturals, as natural as non-guttural sounds, and therefore Indo-European is as original as any sub-Saharan African language, and therefore of completely independent origin (since as far as I know no sub-Saharan languages have anything resembling the laryngeals)?  This would suggest a split between Eurasian languages on the one hand, and African languages on the other (with independent developments in Australasian and American Aboriginal?), which might suggest that all the principal language families are completely independent phenomena.
     I know my reasoning in this message is rather rambling and incoherent and extremely unscientific, but I wonder whether anyone has any comments on anything I have put forth here.