A Very Silly Argument About Farming And Vegetarianism In The Telegraph


It’s not the summer holidays so we’ve not got the day release kids writing the papers as yet. So it’s difficult to understand how this piece managed to make it into the paper. The argument is that since early humans could not deal with fricatives and labiodentals therefore they would not have been able to pronounce the words farming or vegetarianism. That’s fine, obviously enough.

It’s the leap from that to the idea that they wouldn’t have had a word for either and so wouldn’t be able to describe that that irks. For it’s a simply ludicrous contention:

Arguments over the diets of our paleolithic ancestors have raged for decades, but one thing is now certain, if any were vegetarian, they couldn’t have said so. New research into the biting and phonetic ability of stone age humans has found that until the birth of farming some 10,000-years-ago, people could not pronounce the letters ‘v’ or ‘f’ – making the word ‘farming’ also a linguistic impossibility before the advent of agriculture. And when things went wrong for our prehistoric forebears they definitely could not have used ‘the f-word.’ The sounds, known as fricatives and labiodentals, can only be produced when the lower lip pushes against the upper teeth to form a slight hissing sound.

So, in Spanish that same farming activity is agricultura, ziraea in Arabic, lauksaimniecību in Latvian, búskap in Icelandic, កសិកម្ម in Khmer and so on.

That is, it’s not entirely necessary to use fricatives or labiodentals to describe the activity of farming. Further, we’re really quite certain that the people of pre-10,000 years ago weren’t speaking English with the limitations – and use of fricatives and labiodentals – of that language. Nor its glories, obviously.

Even the Telegraph has noted that the world contains more than one language, yes?

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got me baffled. How would one know what our recent ancestors could pronounce? The human vocal tract has been in existence unchanged for millenia. Sounds like another academic exercise in being “clever”. Even Neanderthals are now accepted as being fully human and having speech, symbolic thought and music.