How do specific sounds become part of a language? A recent study finds that geography may play an important role in shaping the sound systems of certain languages.
The findings indicate that languages with ejective consonants are more likely to be spoken in regions with higher elevation, regardless of their language families. Ejectives are sounds produced with bursts of air, and are found in only about 20% of the world’s languages. Unlike most sounds, they are not created with air from the lungs. The author of the study, anthropological linguist Dr. Caleb Everett, postulates that ejectives may be easier to produce at higher altitudes since the air pressure is lower, and therefore less effort is required to compress the air. Another theory is that using ejectives may be a way people adapted to the dryness of their surroundings. The amount of water lost during speaking is reduced with these kinds of consonants, since speakers don’t have to push air out from the lungs.
Click here to listen to the author give an example of what ejectives sound like.
(via PLoS ONE)