Study: Human Language Originated in Africa

Study: Human Language Originated in Africa

New analysis attempts to trace the spread of language.

Published April 18, 2011



Africa is already recognized as the birthplace of the human species. But now, a new study suggests that all of the world’s languages originate in the continent as well.

New Zealand psychologist Quentin Atkinson examined 504 of the world’s languages and found that African languages, especially those in the south, have the most phonemes, which are the smallest distinct units in a language. As humans spread languages throughout the world, going further and further away from Africa, the number of phonemes decrease, which indicates that those languages are newer. 

During his research, Atkinson built a variety of phoneme models and found that smaller populations don’t have as much phoneme diversity. He also found that phoneme diversity was more prevalent in Africa than at points furthest away from the continent, like South America and Oceana, the Washington Post reports. This mirrors the migration of humans across the world.

Written by Hortense M. Barber


Latest in news