You are Where you Live

Acoustic adaptation is a theory in naturalism which suggests that the sounds animals make adapt to their environment: either as a result of their physical environment, or other sounds around them. You can notice that in cities, for examples, were birds will often seem to mimic the man-made sounds they hear every day. Recently though, some linguists have suggested that human languages undergo a similar process of adaptation.

Though this theory have yet to be conclusively proven, there are some intriguing ideas behind it. The main principle believed to affect the sound of a language is the frequency sound waves can travel at in a particular environment. For example, consonants don’t travel well in areas of dense vegetation such as rainforests, and therefore languages which developed in such landscapes are light on consonants and feature long vowel sounds with lots shifts in tone.

European languages, especially those developed in the rolling hills of Northern Europe like German and English, tend to be consonant-heavy, as the acoustics make it much easier for them to be picked up. Temperature seems to be a factor too, with warmer climates favouring open vowel sounds and words ending in vowels, with the languages of colder climates preferring shorter vowel sounds, and more consonants, especially at the end of words. Look at Italian, for example, in which almost every words ends in a vowel, and words tend to be multisyllabic with a variety of vowel sounds. English, on the other hand, tends to feature shorter vowel sounds and words rarely end in a vowel sound. Of course though, English has travelled a lot, so even though there are generally uniform spellings of words (though I won’t get into British- and American-English spellings today!), the sounds of words can vary a lot by region and country, and perhaps this is determined by landscape.

It’s an interesting idea, and I can see the trends that the supporters of this theory describe. Part of me though, thinks that environment alone influencing language to such an extent is too simplistic. I’m sure there are many other factors at play, though I can believe that acoustics is one of them.

I think it’s so attractive because it seems like our environment can influence in so many ways. It can definitely alter our mood or mindset, and our bodies, depending on how effort we have to put in to live in a certain place, or how many opportunities it offers us for exercise.

So why not affect the way we think too? What do you think? Do you think your language is influenced by where it came from, and do you think the way you personally speak is influenced by your physical environment?

4 thoughts on “You are Where you Live

  1. With the number of different dialects and accents that languages have, depending in the region of the speaker – I’d believe that your surroundings definitely have something to do with it. Otherwise, would America not still speak British English?

    Understandably, today when someone moves to the States at early enough age, they (a large part of the time, but not always) lose their native tongue’s accent when they speak English. However, historically, what was here to cause the colonists, over generations, to lose their British accent? Was it speaking with so many other nations such as the Indigenous as well as the French, German, and Spanish that were here too? Or was it the landscape?

    Looking at the different accents here in the States (primarily west coast, northern, southern, and east coast) I can see a lot of truth to what you’ve said in your post. When thinking of the landscape of each region and how people speak, I can definitely see the correlation.

    I’m really glad that you posted this, because something I have always wondered is why we have different accents and dialects for the same languages, depending on where we live. Anecdotal story”

    When I was little, I remember having a conversation with my grandmother, who’s from France. I asked her why she spoke French and she said, “Because I’m from France”. This led my inquisitive mind to throw a litany of questions at her “So people in Germany speak…?” and then she would answer me (“German”). We got to England and I said: “And people in England speak English?” and she told me I was right. I went on to say “So here in America we speak American then!”

    “No, we speak English.” She replied, and I was confused, “But Grandma, we don’t talk the same way they do in England, so how do we speak the same language? If England speaks English how come we speak English too instead of American?”

    I don’t remember her answer, but I still think I’m right. England speaks English, and here we speak American, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve always liked the quote that England and the United States are two countries divided by a common language! Interestingly, I’ve heard it said that the typical English accent of the 17th century was closer to modern American accents than modern English ones. Perhaps English accents changed over time due to exposure to other European accents, whereas American accents haven’t changed so much from the Puritans due to not being exposed to as many accents.

      Liked by 1 person

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