Toward a Copernican turn to the South African origin of linguistic humans- a hypothesis

UDC 81
Publication date: 30.03.2019
International Journal of Professional Science №3-2019

Toward a Copernican turn to the South African origin of linguistic humans- a hypothesis

О трактовке Южно-африканского происхождения человека- носителя вербального языка Н. Коперником - гипотеза

Tokumary T.K., Nedbailik S.R.

1. Professor, free lecturer,
Chair of linguistics, Tokyo University,
Tokyo, Japan
2. PhD, assistant professor
Chair of German and French languages,
Institute of foreign languages, Petrozavodsk State University
Аннотация: В рамках данного исследования авторы обнаружили трагическое «стирание» результатов археологических раскопок в Южной Африке примерно с 1960-х гг. как международной, так и африканской академической наукой, что позволило скрыть важность MSA. Они предположили возможность происхождения человека как носителя вербальной коммуникации в результате двухэтапной эволюции логических свойств звукового речевого потока: фонемы и ударения. Это значит, что (i) вулканическая зима Тоба вызвала автоматическое овладение фонемами, щелкающими согласными 72KA и (ii) частое использование гиоида для производства щелкающих согласных, стимулировала развитие уникальной человеческой структуры нижней челюсти, которая предполагает опущенную гортань с меньшим риском удушья.

Abstract: In the frame of this research the authors discovered a tragic «erasure» of South African Archaeology from around 1960s by foreign as well as South African academics, which concealed the importance of MSA. They hypothesized the emergence of linguistic humans as a two-stage evolution of logical properties in speech sound stream: phoneme and accent. It means that (i) the Toba volcanic winter triggered the auto-acquisition of phonemes, Click consonants 72KA, and (ii) the frequent use of hyoid to produce click consonants stimulated and developed the modern human unique mandible, which can house the descended larynx with the reduced risk of choking.
Ключевые слова: цифровая эволюция, логические свойства фонемы и мораических акцентов, вулканическая зима Тоба, Неолитические индустрии в Южной Африке.

Keywords: digital evolution, logical properties of phoneme and moraic accents, Toba volcanic winter, Neolithic industries in South Africa

1.Introduction: Overlaying Genetic Anthropology on the Evolution of Language

Statistical analysis of SNPs in mt-DNA and Y-chromosome revealed the African origin of modern humans about 70KA, which coincided with the Toba volcanic winter (71-73.5KA). (Ambrose 1998) Through analysis of African hunter-gatherers’ mt-DNA, the birth place of modern humans is narrowed down to the coastal zone of South Africa [2]. While some linguists pointed out «considerable parallelism between genetic and linguistic evolution», and the Khoisan language to be the oldest, the two outstanding Neolithic industries at Still Bay (72-71KA) and Howiesons Poort (66-58KA) have not yet been identified and integrated into the hypothesis for the origin of language [1].

It is partly because South African stone age researches have been isolated from international consideration due to the international academic boycott from 1960s to 1990s, and many South African archaeologists left their native country. In the artefacts unearthed from Howiesons Poort layer, there were tool types which were only known from ‘advanced’ Upper rather than Middle Palaeolithic contexts in Europe, and the stratigraphic position (66-58 KA) of Howiesons Poort was clarified by excavation of the Klasies River Mouth main site [11]. Linguists have not yet taken this time-reversal seriously, which requires a Copernican turn from Eurocentric prejudice. It is necessary to realize the critical importance of logical properties of phoneme and accent in speech sound stream, and hypothesize that linguistic humans were born in South African MSA.

2.South African Archaeology almost Dying around 1960s

Since early 1960s, South African archaeology has been almost erased. At the beginning, two prominent and enthusiastic archaeologists, ‘Peter’ van Riet Lowe (1894-1957) and John Goodwin (1900-1959) passed away. Riet Lowe was the first Director of the South African Archaeological Survey, a governmental body. Goodwin was the first South African national who studied archaeology at Cambridge, and returned to work at the University of Cape Town. He founded the South African Archaeological Society (SAAS) and worked as the first editor of South African Archaeological Bulletin (SAAB).

In 1962, the South African Archaeological Survey was dismantled and closed without explanation, and the second Pan African Congresses on Prehistory and Quarternary Studies to be hosted at Johannesburg was cancelled. Second generation members within the SAAS who served its Presidents were offered jobs in the U.S.A. and left their homeland forever: in 1962, R.Singer (1924-2006), anatomist at the Univ. Cape Town Medical Faculty, became chairman of the University of Chicago’s Department of Anatomy, and the next president, J. Robinson (1923-2001), Director of Transvaal Museum, moved to the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Post-graduate students, I. Glynn (1937-1985) and C. Schrire (1941- ), went abroad.

In addition, high profile promotion of Tanzanian early human fossils discovered by Louis Leakey (1903-1972), who was once President of SAAS, and Mary Leakey (1913-1996) diverted international attention from South African archaeology.


3.International Academic Boycott and its Boomerang Effect


The South African police opened fire on non-violent protesters, who had gone to the police to be arrested for not having papers, organized by the black liberation movement Pan Africanist Congress, at Sharpville, in the suburb of Johannesburg, on March 21st 1960. 69 Рeople were killed including 8 women and 10 children, and 180 injured including 31 women and 19 children. On 30th March 1960, the government declared a state of emergency. In 1961, the South Africa departed from the Commonwealth of Nations. It is not clear by whom, when and how the international academic boycott against South Africa started. There is no record in any international academic organization which called for the academic boycott against South Africa. A UK civic movement, Anti Apartheid Movement (AAM) in London, which had started as the Boycott Movement in 1959, seemed to be one of the leading advocators from an early stage, and the boycott was thorough, extensive and hysterical [5] «Local left-wing pressure-groups» were very active when the British «national organizing committee» banned South Africans at World Archaeological Congress held in Southampton, U.K. in 1986, without considering the importance of South African archaeology to study the Earliest Hominids and the Modern Humans at all [9].


The academic boycott was a comprehensive isolation of South African academics and journals. «At least eight manifestations of this boycott can be recognized: 1. Scholars refusing to travel to South Africa or to invite South Africans abroad; 2. Publishers, journals, and the like, refusing to publish South African manuscripts; 3. Scholars abroad refusing to collaborate with South African scholars; 4. Publishers abroad refusing to provide access to information (for example, books or computer software); 5. International conferences barring South Africans; 6. Institutions abroad denying South African academics access; Institutions abroad refusing to recognize South African degrees; 8. Scholars abroad refusing to act as external examiners for theses presented at South African universities» [3, С. 187]. Unfortunately it worked as a double-edged sword or boomerang particularly in the fields where rich and varied samples are available in South Africa, i.e. archaeology and anthropology. By boycotting South Africa, international archaeologists lost a chance to familiarize themselves with the place where early and linguistic humans emerged. But we cannot know what we don’t know, and this boomerang effect has never been discussed or realized. At the end of the apartheid era, international archaeologists did not pay any special attention to recover 30 years of intellectual isolation from South Africa, which keeps international archaeologists both innocent and ignorant on the richness and importance of South African archaeology even now. This could be the reason why Still Bay and Howiesons Poort have not yet been integrated into the hypotheses on the origin of linguistic humans. There are many archaeologists in the world who don’t know the SB and HP industries, not to mention linguists.


  1. S.A. Middle Stone Age and Sudden Emergence of Neolithic Culture
  2. A. MSA started about 300KA probably with the use of fire for cooking [8]. Hunter-gatherers foraged along the seashore for shells and fish, and probably cooked seafood over fire. As there are a lot of hollowed caves along this coastline, they started to use caves for their homes. Caves in the sea cliff at 20 m above sea level provided an extremely safe environment against enemies or predators. In such safe environment, new born babies can stay in the crib for one year without having to fend for themselves, and modern humans started to deliver helpless infants. Human babies are born in a helpless condition, which А. Portmann (1944) named «secondary altriciality» as primates are precocious. H. Martin [2] explained that the big brain size of anatomically modern humans is achieved by this helplessness in bed. Having spent 9 months in the mother’s womb, a human infant is born helpless and stays in the crib for another year under intensive post-natal care while its brain size continuously grows at the same rate as inside the womb, i.e. proportionally with its weight increase. The author surmises that this «secondary altriciality» was possible inside safe caves, thanks to intensive baby care by grandmother. E.O. Wilson [12] provides general scientific arguments based on his study on the eusocial origins and evolution of the Hymenoptera, the insect taxonomic order that includes ants, bees, and aculeate (stinging) wasps. «One solid principle drawn from this analysis of the hymenopterans, and other insects as well, is that all of the species that have attained eusociality, as I have stressed, live in fortified nest sites. A second principle, less well established but probably nonetheless universal, is that the protection is against enemies, namely predators, parasites, and competitors». MSA as a background had already (i) fire to cook, (ii) safe coastal caves as residence, (iii) secondary altriciality for a larger brain and (iv) eusociality to take care of babies. Apart from fire, they are not unique to modern humans and they all belong to background conditions, where suddenly emerged distinctive Neolithic industries.


  1. Toba volcanic winter and the acquisition of phonemes

In Middle Stone Age (MSA) South Africa (300 – 25 ka), SB and HP constitute two outstanding Neolithic industries in MSA background. The starting and ending ages for SB were estimated as 71.9 and 71.0 ka and, for HP 64.8 ka to 59.5 ka. (Jacob 2008) SB and HP emerged in the time series along the southern coastline of the African continent. The representative cave for SB is Blombos Cave, and those for HP are the Klasies River Mouth Caves. Still Bay area is on a shallow beach. Klasies River Mouth Caves are located at a few hundred kilometers east to Still Bay, where waves are high and strong enough to erode extremely large caves at the merging area of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. It is remarkable that the HP artefacts contain engraved ostrich eggshell containers. This sudden augmentation in the precision and sophistication of artefacts at SB/HP indicates that there were critical technological breakthroughs at the beginning of SB/HP periods, which probably was language.

Precisely speaking, this SB/HP time series development of Neolithic industries should correspond to a two-stage development of logical properties in voice: phonemes to generate an infinite number of word signs and moraic accents to make individual syllables distinguishable. Thanks to accents, conceptual and grammatical syllables can be transmitted alternately without any remark, which enabled dualistic grammatical modulation of adjacent conceptual words. In the past, it has been proposed that the so-called Toba event plunged the world into a volcanic winter, killing animal and plant life and squeezing our species to a few thousand individuals. However, the volume of vaporized flood basalts is 800km3, while at one of big five extinctions, at the end of Permian 250MA, the volume of flood basalts was in excess of 1.5 million km3, 2,000 times bigger volume than Toba eruption [7]. It is not plausible that mass extinction should have taken place at the time of Toba volcanic winter.

How can the coincidence of Toba volcanic winter with genetic statistical analysis and SB Neolithic industry be explained? The environmental stress of a volcanic winter, such as cold weather, less sunny days and less food, forced hunter-gatherers on the coastal zone of South Africa to spend more time than usual inside their caves, which functioned as sound shelters: they could sing as loudly and as long as they liked without being recognized by enemies or predators. A South African natural scientist, В. Marais [4] spent a couple of years with wild chacma baboons and reported that chacma baboons were singing together in the evening and night for several hours.

Why not modern humans? «And then from all sides would come the sound of mourning, a sound never uttered otherwise than on occasions of great sorrow – of death or parting. … In the case of the chacma the condition also disappears with the settling darkness. When the troop finally moved on to the krans or to the entrance of the sleeping-cave, the games were resumed and sometimes on moonlight nights continued for several hours [4]. It is probable that, through singing together, eusocial modern humans living inside caves autopoietically shared distinctive sound elements among community, which developed into phonemic click consonants.


  1. Frequent use of hyoid to produce clicks developed mandible bone


С. Deagling [5] found that «no consensus exists that there is a diagnostic anatomical indicator for articulate speech in human evolution» and made extensive analyses to get clearer images of the evolution of the unique mandible of modern human. He concluded that «high-frequency, low-magnitude loads associated with articulate speech are hypothesized to explain the apparent paradox of hypertrophied mandibular bone in contrast to the reduced bone thickness that typifies the remainder of the modern human skull».  It is plausible that the frequent use of the tongue to produce click sounds had contributed to the modern human unique mandible and provided enough space to house the vocal tract with descended larynx. Р. Lieberman [3] also suggested that «before the evolution of the modern human SVT (Supra-laryngeal Vocal Tract), the neural substrate that sequences the motor pattern generators that generate speech must have been in place». Click then syllable two stage time series evolution seems appropriate. Klasies River Mouth Caves (34.06 S, 24.24 E) are known to be the oldest modern human site. The extremely large hollowed caves face out toward the merging zone of the Indian and Atlantic oceans, and were made in the sand stone layer through erosion of silica by the strong waves. But «The Middle Stone Age at Klasies River Mouth in South Africa» [9] reports the excavation work at KRM No.1 only. It did not introduce large comfortable caves 3 and 5. It is strange that J. Wymer contributed not a single word to this book, while Singer did not take part in the excavation work at all, probably neither in its drafting.

In fact, the excavation work was not completed, as J.Wymer suddenly returned to U.K. in July 1968 and never returned to S.A. again. (Letters from J. Wymer to J. Rudner dated 11 March, 14 May and 21 Sept. 1968, Archived as Rudner’s Manuscripts at Library of  Univ. Cape Town) Singer visited London in September 1968 and met J. Wymer, became a U.S. citizen on 1st May 1969 and was named the “outstanding citizen of the year”. (Chicago Tribune, 18 September 1969 in J.Rudner’s Manuscripts, at UCT). Analysis of the KRM fossils, especially those of mandibles, are on-going by various researchers. At the conclusion of a comparative study, D.F. Royer et al [7] stated that “This study demonstrates that size variation in the Klasies River mandibular and dental samples is greater than in modern human populations, supporting the hypothesis that this MSA population was more dimorphic». The author presumes that the dimorphism in the Klasies specimens might indicate an evolution of a mandible taking place in this cave, which enabled a descended larynx for vowel resonance.


  1. Vowels Accented Syllables are Moraic Phonemes for Grammar

Evidently the laryngeal descent seems to be critical to produce vowel accented syllables, the logical property ‘mora’. С. Deagling [5] continued, «even though the chin is recognized as diagnostic of our species, its evolutionary and functional significance remain incompletely understood». To date, the relationship between clicks and vowel accented syllables has been an enigma. “Clicks are known as consonants involving a velaric ingressive airstream mechanism, whose geographic and linguistic distribution is restricted to Khoisan and a small number of other languages in Africa» [6]. Clicks are the phonemes which can be produced without airflow, i.e. before the laryngeal descent and vowels. «Existing analyses of clicks and non-clicks are seldom integrated into a single coherent phonological system…» [10] This incoherency can be an evidence for evolution of the clicks-then-syllables time series. Once syllables are obtained, only the Khoisan kept clicks as they were surrounded by the world named by click based concepts, while those who left Southern Africa abandoned clicks as they had enough phonemes with syllables.

  1. Westphal [10] concluded that, in «some of the Khoisan languages, most content words begin with clicks, but very few function words do». This indicates that there are grammatical phonemes and non-grammatical ones. Content words are concepts such as nouns, verbs and adjectives. With phonemic permutations, sound symbolic conceptual words could be generated as much as they liked. Probably clicks were the first phonemes without any grammatical modulation capability. With accents, linguistic humans became able to vocalize conceptual and grammatical syllables alternately in speech sound without any remarks, which are integrated by the logic of dualism in the brain of listeners.


  1. Conclusion: South African Origin of Linguistic Human Hypothesis

The South African Origin of Linguistic Human Hypothesis is comprehensive and plausible. It is complementary to the results of statistical genetic analyses as well as to the geophysical ice core analysis to estimate ancient climate such as Toba Volcanic Winter. Click to Syllable time series evolution correspond well to SB to HP Neolithic technological breakthroughs. It has not yet been conceived and hypothesized because of the lack of knowledge on outstanding variations of SB (72-71KA) and HP (66-58 KA) in South African MSA (300 – 25KA), and the lack of knowledge on the digital nature of language, in particular the critical importance of logical properties in speech sound stream, phonemes and accents. Euro-centric prejudice also seems to have prevented many scholars from accepting an African Origin Hypotheses of modern linguistic humans.

From the point of view of vertebrate CNS mechanism, sign reflex can cope with tens of millions of different signs. Not only linguistic humans but also any vertebrate can recognize as many signs and corresponding meanings as presented. Limitation is in vocalization ability. If we can establish an efficient education system and expression method for non-human animals, we will be able to communicate with most of non-human animals using linguistic concepts. Linguistic humans should understand the infinite potential of digital language and live as ever learning and thinking apes.


1. Ambrose, S. (1998). Late Pleistocene human population bottlenecks, volcanic winter, and the differentiation of modern humans. J Human Evol. 34: 623-651. Cavalli-Sforza, LL, et al (1988) Reconstruction of human evolution: Bringing together genetic, archeological, and linguistic data. PNAS USA 85:6002-6006. Deagling, D.J.(2012) The Human Mandible and the Origins of Speech, J. of Anthropology.
2. Henn B.M. et al. (2011) Hunter-gatherer genomic diversity suggests a southern African origin for modern humans PNAS 108:5154-5162.
3. Lancaster F.W. (1995) The Academic Boycott of South Africa: Symbolic Gesture or Effective Agent of Change? Perspectives, 15:1 (Fall 1995).
4. Jacobs, Z. et al. (2008) Ages for the Middle Stone Age of Southern Africa: Implications for Human Behavior and Dispersal, Science 322: 733-735 Marais, E., The Soul of the Ape, Stephan Phillips, Africana Series 1969 (2002) Martin RD (1990) Primate origins and evolution: a phylogenetic reconstruction Princeton Univ.
5. Minty (2017) Abdul Minty Voice File, The Commonwealth Oral Histories, Inst. of Commonwealth Studies, Univ. of London.
6. Nakagawa, H. (2007) Integration of the clicks and the non-clicks Area and culture studies / Tokyo Univ. of Foreign Studies 75:87-96.
7. Royer D.F., Lockwood C.A., Scott J.E., Grine F.E., Size Variation in Early Human Mandibles and Molars from Klasies River, South Africa: Comparison with Other Middle and Late Pleistocene Assemblages and with Modern Humans, AM. J. PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 140:312–323 (2009).
8. Shimelmitz, R., et al. 2014. Fire at will: the emergence of habitual fire use 350,000 years ago. J. Human Evol 77:196-203.
9. Singer, R. & Wymer, J. (1982) The Middle Stone Age at Klasies River Mouth in South Africa Chicago U.P.
10. Traill, A. (1997) Linguistic phonetic features for clicks. In R.K. Herbert (ed), African linguistics at the crossroads: papers from Kwaluseni (1st World Congress of African. Linguistics,
11. Westphal, E.O.J. (1971) The click languages of Southern and Eastern Africa, in Sebeok, T.A., Current trends in Linguistics, Vol. 7: Berlin: Mouton.
12. Wilson E.O., The Social Conquest of Earth, 2012, Liveright, New York Wurz S., The Hoawiesons Poort Backed Artefacts from Klasies River: An Argument for Symbolic Behaviour, S.A.A.B. 54(1999) :38-50.