-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [evol-psych] In Click Languages, an Echo of the Tongues of the Ancients
Date: Wed, 19 Mar 2003 14:54:35 +0000
From: Ian Pitchford <ian.pitchford@...>
Reply-To: Ian Pitchford <ian.pitchford@...>
Organization: http://human-nature.com
To: evolutionary-psychology@yahoogroups.com

New York Times

March 18 2003

In Click Languages, an Echo of the Tongues of the Ancients

Do some of today's languages still hold a whisper of the ancient mother tongue
spoken by the first modern humans? Many linguists say language changes far too
fast for that to be possible. But a new genetic study underlines the extreme
antiquity of a special group of languages, raising the possibility that their
distinctive feature was part of the ancestral human mother tongue.

They are the click languages of southern Africa. About 30 survive, spoken by
peoples like the San, traditional hunters and gatherers, and the Khwe, who
include hunters and herders.

Each language has a set of four or five click sounds, which are essentially
double consonants made by sucking the tongue down from the roof of the mouth.
Outside of Africa, the only language known to use clicks is Damin, an extinct
aboriginal language in Australia that was taught only to men for initiation

Some of the Bantu-speaking peoples who reached southern Africa from their
homeland in western Africa some 2,000 years ago have borrowed certain clicks
from the Khwe, one use being to substitute for consonants in taboo words.

There are reasons to assume that the click languages may be very old. One is
that the click speakers themselves, particularly a group of hunter-gatherers of
the Kalahari, belong to an extremely ancient genetic lineage, according to
analysis of their DNA. They are called the Ju|'hoansi, with the upright bar
indicating a click. ("Ju|'hoansi" is pronounced like "ju-twansi" except that
the "tw" is a click sound like the "tsk, tsk" of disapproval.)

All human groups are equally old, being descended from the same ancestral
population. But geneticists can now place ethnic groups on a family tree of
humankind. Groups at the ends of short twigs, the ones that split only recently
from earlier populations, are younger, in a genealogical sense, than those at
the ends of long branches. Judged by mitochondrial DNA, a genetic element
passed down in the female line, the Ju|'hoansis' line of descent is so ancient
that it goes back close to the very root of the human family tree.

Full text

News in Brain and Behavioural Sciences - Issue 89 - 15th March, 2003 

Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/ 

Mark Hubey