Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tones and Genes

A brief one: I just read this article from New Scientist that uncovers a potential link between one's genetic endowment and one's ability to speak tone-based languages. I don't think it changes much for any Occidental learning Chinese, but it does contain an echo of an idea I read about a long time ago: the notion that languages evolve towards increasing simplicity over time.

2 comments:

Chris said...

Eeek I have been out of it for a while, to much work and then ill for a while, still practicing languages though.

Now it seems that maybe we should take a genetic test before starting to learn Chinese ;).

I guess I must be OK though, I have got partway there with the tones.... what if I had completely the wrong brain though? Presumably I would have wasted a lot of time...

They say in the article that they haven't identified a selection mechanism for the genes, I would have thought that it was simply that if you can't talk very well you didn't get a wife...

Brendan Lawlor said...

Hmmm. Interesting theory. But tones or no tones, the often enormous gap in communications between men and women doesn't seem to stop them getting together and passing on those genes.

You gotta feel for the poor Chinese guy who misses out on the necessary mutation though. Must be a lot of Chinese barmen who, on listening to the "My wife doesn't understand me" story, scratch their heads and wonder why this guy expects a flag to chat to him.