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Altitude affects the way languages are spoken

A new study has found a link between geographical elevation and the way language is spoken.

Washington: A new study has found a link between geographical elevation and the way language is spoken.

The study reveals that languages containing ejective consonants are spoken mainly in regions of high elevation. Ejectives are sounds produced with an intensive burst of air, and are not found in the English language.

The findings show that 87 percent of the languages with ejectives included in the study are located within 500 km of a region of high elevation on all continents.

The research also indicates that as elevation increases, so does the likelihood of languages with ejectives.

"This is really strong evidence that geography does influence phonology-the sound system of languages," Caleb Everett, associate professor of anthropology, in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Miami and author of the study, said.

For this project, Everett analyzed the locations of about 600 representative languages, of the 7000 or so languages of the world. Ninety two of this sample had ejectives.

He utilized the World Atlas of Linguistic Structures-the most comprehensive survey of linguistic sounds.

Everett imported the coordinates of these languages into the geographic software of Google Earth and ArcGIS v. 10.0, then superimposed the locations of these sound systems on the world`s landscape to analyze the patterns.

The results show a strong correlation between high altitude and the presence of ejectives in languages on, or near, five of the six major high altitude regions on earth where people live.

According to the results, the only region with high elevation where languages with ejectives are absent is the large Tibetan plateau and the adjacent areas. People of this region have a unique adaptation to high altitude that may account for this fact.

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.


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