Lexicon Valley on the Influence That Altitude May Have on Language

A show about the mysteries of English.
July 1 2013 1:16 PM

Can Geography Affect Language?

The uncanny correlation between altitude and language development.

Listen to Lexicon Valley Episode No. 30: Eject at High Altitude

When University of Miami linguist Caleb Everett plotted nearly 600 of the world’s languages on a map using Google Earth, he noticed something peculiar: Languages containing a consonant sound known as an “ejective” (found in about one-fifth of the world’s languages) were clustered at or near high-altitude regions. From the Rocky Mountains of North America to the Caucasus of Eurasia to the Ethiopian Highlands, a clear correlation emerged between a specific speech sound and geography. But is it all just a remarkable coincidence? Listen to Mike Vuolo’s conversation with Everett, who offers what he believes to be a couple of plausible explanations.

You'll find every Lexicon Valley episode at slate.com/lexiconvalley, or in the player below:

Send your thoughts about the show to slatelexiconvalley@gmail.com.

Mike Vuolo is a radio and podcast producer and the host of Lexicon Valley.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Dec. 19 2014 4:15 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? Staff writer Lily Hay Newman shares what stories intrigued her at the magazine this week.