Scientists find ‘missing link’ behind first human languages

Researchers found that people could accurately identify the intended meaning of the vocalizations more than 60 percent of the time

According to a Live Science report, basic human vocalizations may have been vital in the development of the first human languages. Linguist Marcus Perlman of the University of Birmingham and his colleagues asked more than 800 participants, who spoke 25 different languages, to listen to sounds produced by English speakers and assign one of six words to each.

The intended meaning of the sound was included in the six available words, which were grouped into six categories based upon people, animals, objects, quantifiers, and demonstratives thought to have been important to the survival of early humans. The words included child, man, woman, tiger, snake, deer, knife, fire, rock, water, meat, fruit, gather, cook, hide, eat, sleep, dull, sharp, big, small, good, bad, and this or that.

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Overall, the researchers found that people could accurately identify the intended meaning of the vocalizations more than 60 percent of the time, with the sounds for actions, people, and animals being more easily understood. Snoring, to indicate sleep, was recognized more than 98 percent of the time. The least recognizable sound was for the word “that,” at about 35 percent, which is still more than twice of what would be expected in a one out of six chance. Perlman suggests the first languages developed over hundreds or thousands of years as a combination of vocalizations and hand gestures.

source archaeology.org