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Language evolution and climate: The case of desiccation and tone

Everett, C., Blasi, D. E., & Roberts, S. G. (2016). Language evolution and climate: The case of desiccation and tone. Journal of Language Evolution, 1, 33-46. doi:10.1093/jole/lzv004.
We make the case that, contra standard assumption in linguistic theory, the sound systems of human languages are adapted to their environment. While not conclusive, this plausible case rests on several points discussed in this work: First, human behavior is generally adaptive and the assumption that this characteristic does not extend to linguistic structure is empirically unsubstantiated. Second, animal communication systems are well known to be adaptive within species across a variety of phyla and taxa. Third, research in laryngology demonstrates clearly that ambient desiccation impacts the performance of the human vocal cords. The latter point motivates a clear, testable hypothesis with respect to the synchronic global distribution of language types. Fourth, this hypothesis is supported in our own previous work, and here we discuss new approaches being developed to further explore the hypothesis. We conclude by suggesting that the time has come to more substantively examine the possibility that linguistic sound systems are adapted to their physical ecology
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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