Do all languages in the world originate from a single "mother tongue"?
By studying phonemes - the consonants, vowels and tonal elements of languages, biologist Quentin D. Atkinson has claimed to discover that human languages originated in Africa:
Dr. Atkinson, an expert at applying mathematical methods to linguistics, has found a simple but striking pattern in some 500 languages spoken throughout the world: A language area uses fewer phonemes the farther that early humans had to travel from Africa to reach it.
Some of the click-using languages of Africa have more than 100 phonemes, whereas Hawaiian, toward the far end of the human migration route out of Africa, has only 13. English has about 45 phonemes.
This pattern of decreasing diversity with distance, similar to the well-established decrease in genetic diversity with distance from Africa, implies that the origin of modern human language is in the region of southwestern Africa, Dr. Atkinson says in an article published on Thursday in the journal Science.
In evolutionary terms one would always expect that earlier languages would have fewest phonemes, and that with increasing sophistication, more phonemes would be added as necessary.
What has resulted in a gradual reduction in the number of phonemes in modern languages was the invention of writing.
If you exclude Egyptian, Afrikaans, Swahili and Arabic (the earliest written form for languages such as Yoruba), the first African language to develop writing was probably Tswana, where the first book, the Bible, was published in 1857. That is very recent in language terms.
Tswana has already lost one fricative and other phonemes current exist only for old words that are seldom-used, and for loan words from other languages. Modernisation has started.
I'm well aware that language has evolved. As in the case of the distinctions of personhood and non-personhood which originated or were formalized with Tertulian c. 400 A.D. This is an important fact when considering the writings and inscriptions of cultures before this time. The term "person" comes from Latin "persona" a term used in Roman plays to refer to the role played by the actor. A persona therefor was the outward facing appearance of a part. And this came to refer to the "persona" or "personality" of individual humans. Whereas before this time, its likely that there was no such concept of personhood. This could explain why so much of the literature from the time depicts natural forces as personal and persons as impersonal interchangably with modern usage. The intriguing question for me then is, is personhood a really valid distinction or has its meaning changed since Tertulian, and/or is the evolved distinction truthful?
Until the late 19th century the Western medical consensus overwhelmingly agreed that bloodletting was a valuable cure-all medical treatment for all sorts of ailments. Regardless the efficacy of bloodletting was empirically investigated and in this case the results suggested the opposite of the obvious was true. In almost all cases bloodletting did more harm that good and increased the risk of mortality. Bloodletting is argued to be the cause of George Washington's death after 4lbs of blood was drained to treat a throat infection.
While admittedly it took some time for the medical and scientific communities to be convinced, based on these findings they eventually did a complete 180 and ceased the use of bloodletting as a means of treatment for all but a select few specific conditions.
That is why science is so cool - it is a self-correcting process that actively seeks and promotes the truth even in the face of overwhelming "obvious" assumptions to the contrary.
So think about that the next time you feel yourself about to say "well isn't it obvious?" to a scientific finding.