An ancient woman from Romania shows an edgeto-edge bite (left). A Bronze Age man from Austria had a slight overbite (right). D. E. BLASI ET AL., SCIENCE, 363, 1192 (2019)
Don't like the F-word? Blame farmers and soft food. When humans switched to processed foods after the spread of agriculture, they put less wear and tear on their teeth. That changed the growth of their jaws, giving adults the overbites normal in children. Within a few thousand years, those slight overbites made it easy for people in farming cultures to fire off sounds like "f" and "v," opening a world of new words.
The newly favored consonants, known as labiodentals, helped spur the diversification of languages in Europe and Asia at least 4000 years ago; they led to such changes as the replacement of the Proto-Indo-European patēr to Old English faeder about 1500 years ago, according to linguist and senior author Balthasar Bickel at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. The paper shows "that a cultural shift can change our biology in such a way that it affects our language," says evolutionary morphologist Noreen Von Cramon-Taubadel of the University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York system, who was not part of the study.
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