Warmer Climates Make Languages Louder, Study Finds

A recent study by Dr. Søren Wichmann and colleagues reveals a fascinating link between language loudness and climate. According to their findings, languages spoken in tropical regions tend to be louder than those in colder areas.

The Role of Air in Speech

When we talk, our words travel through the air as sound waves. This study highlights how air’s physical properties, influenced by temperature, affect our speech. For instance, in colder, drier climates, making voiced sounds (like those in the word “butterfly”) is more challenging. However, these sounds are easier to produce and hear in warmer climates.

The Study’s Approach

Dr. Wichmann’s team used a large database called the Automated Similarity Judgment Program (ASJP), which has data on over 5,000 languages. They discovered that languages near the Equator, particularly in Africa and Oceania, have a higher ‘sonority’ or loudness level. Conversely, the Salish languages of North America’s northwest coast have the lowest sonority.

Exceptions and Insights

Interestingly, some languages in warm regions like Central America and Southeast Asia don’t follow this trend, showing lower sonority. This suggests that the impact of temperature on language evolves slowly, potentially over thousands of years.

Broader Implications

This study challenges the old belief that languages aren’t influenced by their social or natural environments. It also opens up possibilities for understanding human migration patterns, as languages carry traces of their historical environments.

In essence, Dr. Wichmann’s research offers a fresh perspective on how our surroundings shape the very way we communicate. It’s a reminder of the intricate connection between our environment and our cultural expressions.

Original Article Source: “Linguistics study claims that languages are louder in the tropics” by Kiel University, PNAS Nexus (2023).

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