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February 14, 2012

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Home » Metro » Health and Science

China tops dialect complexity

A research project by local scientists demonstrates that the Caspian Sea might be the origin for modern language.

Fudan University researchers studied 579 languages from 95 linguistic families in an effort to discover the world's phonemic diversity, and the research finding was published in Science magazine, university officials announced yesterday.

Languages from Eurasia show great diversities of vowels, consonants and tones, whereas languages in Africa, the Americas and Australia show much less diversity, researchers said.

They found that phonemic diversity declined with the distance from the Caspian Sea in central Asia. The research finding echoes the legend of the Tower of Babel, where different languages appeared.

"The world phonemic diversities may echo the human expansion from the center of Asia about 20,000 to 4,000 years ago," said Li Hui, the lead researcher of Fudan's School of Life Sciences.

The most complex languages in terms of phonemes are all in China, researchers said. Dondac dialect in Shanghai's Fengxian District has 20 vowel qualities, the largest vowel inventory among all languages. The language with the most tones is the Kam language, used by the Chinese Dong minority. It has 15 tones and people talk as if they are singing.


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