This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Nuts and Bolts: say what you eat.

Apart from the obvious need for people all over the world to say things like spaghetti bolognese, coq au vin and tom yung kung, how does the food we eat affect the way we speak?

A new study by DE Blasi, S Moran, SR Moisik, P Widmer, D Dediu and B Bickel has discovered that the shape of the human mouth is changed by the type of food that's eaten. And, of course, the shape of the mouth affects the types of sounds it can make.

Now, no one is suggesting that Italians speak Italian because yumming up tiramisu encourages those lovely Italian vowels (though you never know, someone might suggest just that, one day), but there does seem to be some evidence that people who eat tough-to-eat food, notably hunter gatherer communities, have lower and upper teeth that meet at the front.

The rest of us tend to keep our front upper teeth further forward than our lower ones.

The research of these fine academics (see above) has shown that this difference in the structure of the mouth affects spoken language. In particular they've found that the language of hunter-gatherer societies tends to use only a quarter of the number of labiodental sounds - that's v s and f s to you and me - as those of us eating more processed food. It's also been shown that as societies depend more and more on mechanically softened food the incidence of v and f sounds increases - or at least, it does in the Indo-European languages examined in the study.

So I suppose this means that in ancient times people probably didn't eat food at all...

...or, when they did, they probably called it by some other name.

Word To Use Today: one beginning with a labiodental sound. Like vanilla or venison or French fries or fettuccine, perhaps.

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