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Our diets may have influenced the languages we speak.

Anthropologist Caleb Everett and former student Sihan Chen used a novel data analysis of thousands of languages, in addition to studying a unique subset of celebrities, to reveal how a soft food diet–contrasted with the diet of hunter-gatherers–is restructuring dentition and changing how people speak.

Their findings, published in Scientific Reports, counter the longstanding belief within the field that maintains that languages are susceptible to the same pressures and so are essentially immune to external factors.

“Our results represent the most compelling evidence to date that languages are very much affected by external factors that differ across populations,” said Everett, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Miami.

“Languages change–we can see this in any language–but the thinking has long been that all languages have the same pressures, that there is no difference across populations that make some people more prone than others to use certain sounds,” he noted.

Everett said that in the past decade, he and others have produced new evidence suggesting that there might be other factors that are likely to influence speech patterns. He highlighted a “highly publicized” paper published in Science Magazine two years ago, while noting that in addition to this new research, he has spent several years studying how environmental factors such as ambient aridity–extreme dryness–shift speech patterns by reducing vowel usage, which requires more effort to pronounce.

He credited the linguistic acumen and diligence of Chen, his former student now pursuing a doctorate in cognitive science, with advancing the dentition study.

“Sihan took a linguistics course and fell in love with the study of languages. An exceptionally bright student, he demonstrated an incredible aptitude for phonetics and transcribing precisely what’s going on in people’s mouths as they speak,” said Everett, who holds a secondary appointment in psychology.


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Anthropologist Caleb Everett and former student Sihan Chen used a novel data analysis of thousands of languages, in addition to studying a unique subset of celebrities, to reveal how a soft food diet–contrasted with the diet of hunter-gatherers–is restructuring dentition and changing how people speak.

Their findings, published in Scientific Reports, counter the longstanding belief within the field that maintains that languages are susceptible to the same pressures and so are essentially immune to external factors.

“Our results represent the most compelling evidence to date that languages are very much affected by external factors that differ across populations,” said Everett, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Miami.

“Languages change–we can see this in any language–but the thinking has long been that all languages have the same pressures, that there is no difference across populations that make some people more prone than others to use certain sounds,” he noted.

Everett said that in the past decade, he and others have produced new evidence suggesting that there might be other factors that are likely to influence speech patterns. He highlighted a “highly publicized” paper published in Science Magazine two years ago, while noting that in addition to this new research, he has spent several years studying how environmental factors such as ambient aridity–extreme dryness–shift speech patterns by reducing vowel usage, which requires more effort to pronounce.

He credited the linguistic acumen and diligence of Chen, his former student now pursuing a doctorate in cognitive science, with advancing the dentition study.

“Sihan took a linguistics course and fell in love with the study of languages. An exceptionally bright student, he demonstrated an incredible aptitude for phonetics and transcribing precisely what’s going on in people’s mouths as they speak,” said Everett, who holds a secondary appointment in psychology.


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