The Yale Undergraduate Research Journal


The sounds and sound structures of languages often pattern in geographic clusters. Most accounts of this phenomenon rely on language contact and common descent as the principal causes of areal features. Modern linguistics rejects the notion that the nature of the location in which a language is spoken affects its phonological system. Nonetheless, some have argued that climate, topography, and other aspects of the ambient environment causally affect phonologies. The aim of this paper is to assess recent attempts in linguistics literature to broaden the view of what motivates geographically correlated phonological structures. I focus on the realms of phonology ostensibly affected by environmental factors; the purportedly adaptive phonetic pressures mediating these; and the mostly critical reactions of linguists to such studies. Ultimately, I conclude in agreement with most scholars that the evidence for environmental determinism in phonology is not compelling.

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