In "Is this how Eve spoke? Every human language evolved from 'single prehistoric African mother tongue'" from the UK Daily Mail:

Every language in the world - from English to Mandarin - evolved from a prehistoric 'mother tongue' first spoken in Africa tens of thousands of years ago, a new study reveals. After analysing more than 500 languages, Dr Quentin Atkinson found compelling evidence that they can be traced back to a long-forgotten dialect spoken by our Stone Age ancestors. The findings don't just pinpoint the origin of language to Africa - they also show that speech evolved at least 100,000 years ago, far earlier than previously thought.

I guess I find it difficult to believe that all humans ever spoke the same language or even a small handful of languages, say 3-4.

In the article, the evidence for this seems to be a theory that the sounds of local African languages are more complex because these languages have evolved more and are thus older.

According to the article:

Dr Atkinson, of Auckland University, has now come up with fascinating evidence for a single African origin of language. In a paper published today in Science, he counted the number of distinct sounds, or phonemes, used in 504 languages from around the world and charted them on a map. The number of sounds varies hugely from language to language. English, for instance has around 46 sounds, some languages in South America have fewer than 15, while the San bushmen of South Africa use a staggering 200. Dr Atkinson found that the number of distinct sounds in a language tends to increase the closer it is to sub-Saharan Africa....

... 'People have suspected for a long time that language arose with the origin of our species in Africa and this is consistent with that view.'

Wouldn't Dr Atkinson's findings also be consistent with African languages simply evolving at either a different rate or in a different way than other languages, instead of being older?

Also a set of languages being older does not logically imply the existence of a single oldest language that was a universal mother tongue.

At one time did all humans speak the same language [as in the Tower of Babel], or just a small handful of languages, or did early humans speak a variety of languages dependent upon geography and education, as today?

  • 3
    This has come out in the Linguistics SE now and then and also a question was posted: Monogenesis vs. Polygenesis... The answer is: there is no (definite) answer yet, unfortunately. There are theories, but that's what they are, theories. And not all agree on them.
    – Alenanno
    Apr 15, 2012 at 11:17
  • 1
    There's also evidence that the human species dropped to less than 15k people, around 70K years ago. So if language did exist up to 100K years ago, then it's likely those 15K people spoke a single language.
    – John C
    Apr 15, 2012 at 12:09
  • The economical theory (and one that seems to be borne out in observable language change) is that complex sounds that are hard to produce or distinguish tend to disappear from language as it spreads, mostly due to the difficulty of late acquisition. "Festering" in isolation may tend to induce subtle distinctions in classes of sounds as morphemes (different "flavours" of, say, uvular r-ness, or the emic difference between θ and ð in Modern English, which were only etic distinctions in OE), but it's much more difficult to explain the spontaneous rise of, say, clicks than their disappearance. Apr 15, 2012 at 23:30
  • An answer to this question is already given here: linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/663/…
    – hdhondt
    Feb 12, 2014 at 3:15


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