7 5

Changes in diet may have led to changes in speech.

Sounds a little deterministic to me, but interesting nonetheless.

Elganned 8 Mar 16
You must be a member of this group before commenting. Join Group

Post a comment Reply Add Photo

Enjoy being online again!

Welcome to the community of good people who base their values on evidence and appreciate civil discourse - the social network you will enjoy.

Create your free account


Feel free to reply to any comment by clicking the "Reply" button.


Since there are still languages spoken by people that did until recently not practice agriculture or eat soft foods, such as the aboriginals of Australia and the bushmen of the Kalahari, would it not be possible to test this hypothesis and see if they use labiodentals in their speech?


Is being born with an underbite a throw back to how our jaws were before we chewed softer foods?

WXYZ Level 4 Mar 18, 2019

The inability to make certain sounds would not at all interfere with the development (or utility) of language, only the form the language would take. Even today, when we all have more or less the same jaw structure, there are sounds that may exist in one language that are incomprehensible or unpronounceable in another. "Spoken" language does not even require sounds at all, eg., ASL

amymcmxcii Level 6 Mar 17, 2019

One of my areas of expertise is human lactation. Shorter duration of breastfeeding, only possible in agricultural societies where non-human milk & softer foods were available for infants, would have quickly changed oral development in similar ways.

Studies have shown that failure to breastfeed results in higher rates of speech problems, while another study showed that breastfeeding till age 3 (which would have been at the low end of breastfeeding duration in pre-agricultural times) reduces the need for future orthodontia by over 70%! I've seen no information on breastfeeding & wisdom teeth problems, but the data is clearly showing that active breastfeeding rather than passive bottle feeding, which requires no jaw movement, promotes more normal oral development. Thanks for sharing this article!

Carin Level 8 Mar 16, 2019

I very much doubt breastfeeding duration was curtailled by agriculture until the Industrial Revolution or even later. There's a great deal of evidence that early agriculture was a much poorer diet. In rural southern Africa in the 1970s for instance, the Bantu tribespeople didn't wean their babies until 4 to prevent malnutrition, they couldn't chew the adult diet of maize, some meat and spinachy leaves. Plus breastfeeding was necessary to prevent children arriving too soon one after the after. Kwashiorkor, the main form of malnutrition there, means weaning disease... and usually occurs when the new baby means the toddler's diet is neglected.


Agriculture is only about 10,000 years old. Is this enough time for evolution to make a major change such as this? Maybe the discovery of fire for cooking, a technique much older than agriculture and which also has the effect making food easier to masticate, was of greater influence.

amymcmxcii Level 6 Mar 16, 2019

I interesting

bobwjr Level 9 Mar 16, 2019

When I was getting my degree in archaeology, I took a classes in environmental anthropology and in paleoanthropology. We learned that as environments changed adaptations occurred with along with the changes. Its not so deterministic as natural selection. As a new food source made its way into the diet of populations, those best suited to masticating the new entrants had a selective advantage over those that did not. Also, the ability to breakdown and digest the cellulose and fiberous plant material in the new plant foods had an advantage. Therefore, both mastication and digestion evolved hand in hand with dentition and jaw adaptation. Those that were able to acquire both were again at a selective advantage.

Language changes were a secondary advancement adjoining the change in jaw and dental changes. One of the key evolutionary developments that humans developed was a complex communications structure (aka. Language). Early survival depended upon complex vocalizations and communications. Early humans were much smaller than their prey and their predators. It took a greater complexity to communicate cooperative tasks, thus society developed. Therefore, it is no so much deterministic, rather just a good case for natural selection over many generations, not overnight.

t1nick Level 8 Mar 16, 2019
Write Comment